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Nothing is more important than our children. The best interests of this state’s children is the highest priority of the legal system in the state of California. Thus, lawmakers have put a number of statutes in place to protect our children.

So, what happens when a driver who has a child along as a passenger is charged with driving under the influence (DUI) here in California? Can a Los Angeles DUI lawyer help?

WHAT IS CALIFORNIA’S MAIN CHILD ENDANGERMENT LAW?

California’s principal child endangerment law (California Penal Code 273a) forbids:

1. permitting a child to suffer unnecessarily
2. inflicting unjustifiable physical or mental pain or suffering on a child
3. placing a child in a situation where the child’s health and/or safety is endangered

A child endangerment charge may be based on an adult’s action or an adult’s failure to act, that is, by inflicting abuse directly or by allowing child endangerment through neglect.

HOW DO PROSECUTORS HANDLE CHILD ENDANGERMENT CHARGES?

A child endangerment charge in California may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or as a felony depending on the specifics of the charge. If a child was in a circumstance “likely to produce great bodily harm or death,” the charge will probably be filed as a felony.

If you are accused of child endangerment in southern California, you must be advised and represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney, and you must put that attorney on your case immediately.

A conviction for child endangerment as a misdemeanor is punishable under California law with up to a year in jail. A conviction for child endangerment as a felony is punishable with up to six years in a California state prison.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CHILD ENDANGERMENT CHARGE IS FILED?

But whether the charge is filed as a felony or a misdemeanor, a California court will immediately bar any contact between the defendant and the child at least until the matter is resolved, and the child may be placed in the custody of the state’s Child Protective Services.

Parents who are charged with child endangerment may also face legal action challenging their custody of the child. Professionals such as teachers or healthcare providers who are charged with child endangerment could have their professional licenses suspended or permanently revoked.

WHAT OTHER SITUATIONS TRIGGER CHILD ENDANGERMENT CHARGES?

Child endangerment may also be charged in this state if you are accused of:

1. driving under the influence with a minor as a passenger
2. using, buying, or selling illegal drugs in a minor’s presence or vicinity
3. subjecting a minor to any physically dangerous situation

However, if you have been charged with driving under the influence and a child under the age of 14 was with you as a passenger, you may not necessarily be charged under California’s main child endangerment law. Prosecutors have another tool they can use in such cases.

WHAT IS AN “ENHANCEMENT” TO A DUI CHARGE?

Some California prosecutors, in some cases, may instead choose to deal with the matter by adding an “enhancement” to your DUI charge. Driving under the influence charges in California may be “enhanced” when the motorist who is charged with DUI:

1. had a child under the age of 14 as a passenger
2. measured a blood alcohol content (BAC) level at or above 0.15 percent
3. refused to take a DUI breath, blood, or urine test
4. drove recklessly or was speeding at twenty or more miles per hour over the posted limit on a surface street or at thirty or more miles per hour over the limit on a freeway

Any motorist in California who is convicted of driving under the influence while a passenger below age 14 was in the vehicle will be ordered to serve mandatory time in jail – along with serving the sentence for the underlying DUI conviction.

The enhancement penalty is forty-eight hours in jail for a first driving under the influence offense. Second and subsequent convictions for the child passenger enhancement require lengthier mandatory jail terms.

HOW IS “DUI WITH CHILD ENDANGERMENT” HANDLED?

If you’re charged with having a child as a passenger while you were driving under the influence – what the law in California calls “DUI with child endangerment” – only two questions will be considered:

1. Are you guilty as charged of DUI?
2. Was a minor below age 14 your passenger?

DUI enhancements are only applied when defendants are convicted for the DUI charge itself as well as the enhancement. If you are in southern California, have a skilled DUI lawyer represent you if you are prosecuted for driving under the influence.

HOW WILL YOUR DEFENSE LAWYER HELP YOU?

Depending on the details of your arrest and the charge against you, your DUI attorney will develop a defense that may dispute:

1. the results of DUI breath, blood, or urine tests offered as evidence
2. the conduct of the police officer or officers who arrested you
3. any weakness or flaw in the state’s case against you

Even if you are charged with “DUI with child endangerment” under California’s Vehicle Code, some prosecutors in some cases may also charge you with violating the state’s principal child endangerment law as an additional charge – and not as an enhancement to the DUI charge.

However, if a defendant is convicted of child endangerment under the Penal Code for the intoxicated driving incident, no additional enhancement penalty will be imposed.

The DUI enhancement under the Vehicle Code only covers children under the age of 14, but the separate child endangerment charge under the Penal Code can be filed by the prosecution for any passenger under the age of 18.

WHAT’S AT STAKE IF YOU ARE ACCUSED OF ENDANGERING A CHILD?

As you might imagine, when a child is involved in any criminal case, prosecutors in this state can become quite aggressive.

If you are charged with child endangerment for any reason in southern California, or if you are charged with driving under the influence – with or without a minor as a passenger – you must reach out at once to an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney.

When what’s at stake is your future, obtain the legal help you need, and obtain it as quickly as you can. If you are charged with a crime, legal help is your right.

By: Douglas Miranda

Los Angeles criminal attorney Douglas Miranda graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned his J.D. from Western State College of Law in Fullerton. Since his admission to practice law in California, he has received special training and certification in forensic science, jury selection, and sex crime defense. Mr. Miranda also helps clients terminate their probations early and expunge their criminal records.

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