Driving under the influence can result in severe penalties in California. A person could have their driver’s license suspended or revoked, face jail time, and pay high fines. The criminal penalties for DUI are in addition to the other consequences of a DUI conviction.
Some factors enhance DUI penalties in California, including having a minor child in the car at the time while driving under the influence of alcohol. California DUI laws expressly set mandatory punishments for DUI with a minor in the vehicle.
Furthermore, you could face additional criminal charges if a minor was in the vehicle when police officers arrested you for drunk driving. Those criminal charges carry separate penalties and fines for a conviction. Therefore, it is wise to seek legal advice from a DUI defense attorney immediately if you were arrested for DUI with a minor in the vehicle.
Being Arrested for Drunk Driving in California with a Minor in the Vehicle
Driving under the influence may be charged under California Vehicle Code §23152 (VC). The code makes it unlawful for a person to operate a motor vehicle:
- With a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08% or more OR
- Under the influence of alcohol
Therefore, you can be charged with drunk driving if you have a BAC above the legal limit OR if the state proves that alcohol impaired your ability to operate the vehicle.
Evidence that an officer may use to justify probable cause to make an arrest include:
- Observations of erratic driving before the DUI traffic stop
- Administering pre-arrest breath testing
- Results of field sobriety tests
- A strong smell of alcohol on the person or inside the vehicle
- Observations of the person’s physical appearance
Once a DUI arrest is made, California’s implied consent laws require drivers to submit to a chemical test to determine the level of alcohol in their system. Refusing a BAC test after a DUI arrest results in an administrative suspension of your driving privileges by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The results of an evidentiary breath test (post-arrest breathalyzer) may be used in court to prove you were drunk at the time of your arrest.
Enhanced Penalties for Driving Under the Influence with a Minor in the Vehicle
The prosecution has the burden of proving guilt for a DUI charge. California DUI lawyers help you fight drunk driving charges to avoid a conviction.
Suppose the court finds you guilty of DUI with a minor in the vehicle. In that case, the court imposes the applicable criminal penalties based on the underlying DUI charges, your past criminal record, and any aggravating facts. An aggravating fact that enhances DUI penalties is driving a vehicle with a minor in the car while intoxicated.
California Vehicle Code §23572 (VC) provides enhanced penalties for individuals convicted of drunk driving with a minor age 14 years or younger in the car. The penalties are mandatory. That means the judge must issue the penalties if the state proves that you were driving under the influence with a minor in the vehicle.
What Are the Penalties for Drunk Driving with a Minor in the Vehicle?
Additional jail time is the penalty under CVC §23572 imposed for a DUI offense involving a minor in the vehicle. The additional jail sentence for this offense is:
- 48 hours in county jail for DUI first offense
- 10 days in jail for DUI second offense
- 30 days in jail for a DUI third offense
- 90 days in jail for DUI fourth offense
The above jail sentences are in addition to any imprisonment ordered by the judge for the DUI conviction. Therefore, you would spend a minimum of 48 hours in jail if you are convicted of a first-time DUI misdemeanor with a child in the car under 14 years of age.
The typical penalties for a first time DUI misdemeanor conviction in California include:
- A jail term of up to six months (with a minor in the vehicle, you could serve 6 months PLUS 48 days)
- Three to five years of informal probation
- Three to nine months in DUI school
- Fines and penalties of $1,500 or more
- Six-month driver’s licenses suspension unless you install an ignition interlock device
Working with a Los Angeles DUI defense lawyer could help you avoid a conviction. There could be several defenses to drunk driving charges with a minor in the vehicle.
Defenses to Driving Under the Influence with a Minor Under 14 in the Vehicle
You may have one or more defenses to the charges of driving intoxicated with a minor in the vehicle. The first defense involves proving that the person is not a minor as defined by the code section. The child must be under 14 years of age for the enhanced penalties to apply.
Another defense attacks the DUI stop and arrest. Police officers must have reasonable suspicion to pull over a driver for drunk driving. Officers must also have probable cause for an arrest. If you show that the police officers violated your civil rights, the judge may rule the evidence admissible in court. The prosecutor may have no choice but to drop the DUI charges.
You could also prove that you were not driving under the influence of alcohol at the time of your arrest. For example, medical conditions mimicked the signs of intoxication or caused a false reading on a chemical test. Your DUI attorney may challenge the results of the field sobriety tests or the breathalyzer tests.
Lastly, if you cannot beat the DUI charges, your lawyer may plead the charges down to a wet reckless charge. If you plead guilty to wet reckless or another lower offense, the sentence enhancement statute will not apply.
You Could Be Charged With Other Crimes for Drunk Driving with a Minor in the Vehicle
In addition to being charged with and convicted of DUI, you could also face other criminal charges if you have a child in the car while driving under the influence. The criminal penalties for a conviction of a related charge would be in addition to the DUI penalties.
Three common offenses related to DUI with a minor child in the car are:
- Child Endangerment charges under PC §273a
- Excessive Speed and Reckless Driving under CVC §23582
- Excessive BAC or Test Refusal under CVC §23578
Child Endangerment and DUI in California
Under PC§273a, you can be guilty of child endangerment if you place a minor under the age of 18 years at risk of pain, suffering, or danger. A person may be guilty of his crime, even though the child was never harmed.
The punishment for child endangerment charges depends on the facts of the case. For example, the risk of great bodily harm or death to the child creates a wobbler offense. Therefore, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
For a misdemeanor endangerment charge, you could serve up to one year in county jail and pay a fine of up to $1,000. You could face a fine of up to $10,000 and up to six years in a California state prison for a felony child endangerment charge.
Excessive Speed and Reckless Driving in Addition to DUI in California
California Vehicle Code §23582 VC enhances the sentence for driving under the influence by 60 days in jail whenever all of the following three conditions apply in a DUI case:
- The driver recklessly operated the vehicle;
- The driver exceeded the maximum posted speed limit by 30 miles on a freeway or 20 miles on any other street; and,
- The driver is guilty of driving under the influence, DUI of .08% or higher, or DUI causing injury.
The statute also requires drivers with enhanced sentences under this code section to addend California DUI school (a drug and/or alcohol education program).
Excessive BAC or Test Refusals and DUI in California
California Vehicle Code §23578 allows the judge to impose additional penalties in DUI cases involving excessive BAC levels or chemical test refusals. A test refusal is defined as refusing a breath test or urine test after a DUI arrest. An excessive BAC level is defined as a blood alcohol concentration of .015% or more.
The judge may impose one or more of the following penalties for a violation of this code section:
- Additional time in jail or prison
- Attendance at additional DUI classes
- Extended driver’s license suspension
- Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock system
The above penalties would be in addition to any penalties the judge ordered for the DUI offense. Depending on the facts and circumstances of a DUI case, enhanced DUI penalties and penalties for DUI-related charges could increase your incarceration time significantly. Additionally, it could be much more difficult to reinstate your driving privileges, obtain automobile insurance, and find a job when you complete your jail term.
Working with an experienced DUI defense lawyer from the beginning of your case can improve your chance of avoiding the harshest DUI sentence. The prosecution’s job is to convict you. In their eyes, you are guilty of the drunk driving charges. Make sure you have someone fighting on your side that has your best interest at heart.