California DUI laws don’t allow any person to drive a vehicle while under the effect of drugs or alcohol. The offense is severe and is punishable by a lengthy prison term and hefty penalties. Penalties can worsen if you are found driving under the influence while with a minor below 14 in the vehicle. It calls for sentence enhancement and a possible additional charge of child endangerment.
If you face charges for drunk or drugged driving with a minor under 14 in Pasadena, CA, hiring an experienced criminal attorney is advisable. Your attorney will, among other things, guide you through the complex legal system and plan a solid defense against your charges. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, our team of competent criminal attorneys is always ready and willing to help in cases like these. We will fight with you to compel the court to either drop or reduce your charges.
An Overview of California DUI Laws
California DUI laws are strict. They make it unlawful for any person to operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. DUI offenders in the state are severely punished, including first-DUI offenders. A judge will most probably sentence you to a minimum of 48 hours in jail, plus a fine of nearly $2,000 for your first DUI offense. In addition to that, your driver’s license could be suspended for several months, during which time you will be required to undergo an alcohol education program.
Penalties for California DUI increase with the number of previous DUI convictions you have in your criminal record. The presence of an aggravating factor could make your case even worse. For instance, if the police establish that your BAC level was higher than the standard allowed for California drivers, you could face a felony DUI instead of a misdemeanor, even for a first-DUI offense. It is advisable to work alongside an experienced DUI attorney to understand DUI laws better and how they could impact your situation.
The first three DUI offenses are prosecuted as misdemeanors in California. Thus, if you face charges for DUI and have two prior DUI convictions within ten years, your third conviction would most probably be a misdemeanor. However, the punishment will not be the same as your first or second DUI conviction. You will most likely receive a maximum of one year in jail and a maximum penalty of $1,000 for your third DUI conviction. Additionally, DMV could suspend your license for up to three years.
Sentence enhancements are available for certain aggravating factors involving DUI in California. For instance, the presence of a child under 14 in your vehicle at the time of your DUI arrest could heighten your DUI sentence. Sentence enhancements apply in equal measure regardless of whether you face a first, second, or third DUI conviction. The exact sentence enhancement the judge will give you will depend on the facts of your case and your criminal history, particularly your previous DUI convictions.
DUI With A Child Under 14
California laws are very protective of children. You will most likely receive severe punishment if you are found to have committed an offense in the presence of a child. Having a child in a vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a severe offense. It goes beyond committing a grave crime in the presence of a child, as it also puts the child at risk of suffering harm. Thus, you’ll be subject to a sentence enhancement if you are found guilty of having a child in your vehicle when driving while intoxicated. It helps to understand this law even better to determine your options if you face charges for drunk or drugged driving with a minor under 14.
The law against DUI with a minor under 14 is under California VC 23572. That is the law that provides sentence enhancement guidelines for DUI defendants who are found guilty of driving with a minor below 14 while intoxicated. The law provides sentence enhancement on top of the standard sentence for DUI. In addition to that, you could face additional charges for child endangerment. Therefore, you will probably face two separate criminal charges if you’re found guilty under California VC 23572.
For the court to find you guilty under California VC 23572, the prosecutor has to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That you were operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- That at the time of your arrest, you were found with a child inside your car, and the child’s age was below 14
Note that the prosecutor must first prove in court that you were operating a vehicle under the influence, in violation of California VC 23152. The prosecutor must either prove that you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, in violation of California VC 23152(a), or with a BAC of 0.08% or more, in violation of California VC 23152(b). Most people are found guilty of both offenses.
The prosecutor will also find out whether or not it was your first DUI arrest. If you have a prior DUI conviction in ten years, you’ll face charges for the second or subsequent DUI, depending on the number of DUI convictions you have within ten years. That will help the judge determine the appropriate sentence for your underlying conviction and the sentence enhancement.
If you’re determined to have been operating under the influence, the prosecutor will proceed to prove in court that you had as a passenger a child of below 14 at the time of your arrest. Having a child in the vehicle while driving under the influence doesn’t mean that you intended to hurt the child. The prosecutor will also not consider your intoxication level or your manner of driving to determine whether or to charge you under California VC 23572.
Having a minor below 14 in the vehicle while driving under the influence is an aggravating factor that could cause felony DUI charges even for first-DUI offenders. The only way to avoid the severe penalties that come with a felony DUI is to plan a solid defense against your charges.
Penalties for Conviction Under California VC 23572
As previously mentioned, you will likely receive an enhanced sentence on top of the penalties you would receive for driving under the influence if you are found guilty of DUI with a child under 14. The court imposes the sentence enhancement as below:
If it is your first DUI charge, you are probably going to receive the following criminal penalties upon conviction:
- Misdemeanor probation for 3 to 5 years
- A maximum of six months in jail
- A fine of between $390 and $1,000
- Mandatory installation of an IID for six months
- Driver license suspension for four months
- Mandatory enrollment in a DUI program for 3 to 9 months
On top of that, you’ll receive additional 48 hours in jail for driving under the influence with a minor of below 14.
You would face a second-offense DUI in California if your second DUI charge happened within ten years from the first. If that’s the case, you will most likely receive the following penalties upon conviction:
- Misdemeanor probation for up to five years
- A maximum of one year in jail
- Fines ranging from $390 to $1,000
- Mandatory installation of IID for one year
- Driver license suspension for two years
- At least thirty months in a DUI school
On top of that, you will likely receive additional ten days of jail time if you are found guilty under California VC 23572.
You commit a third-offense DUI in California if a third charge occurs within ten years from the first. A third DUI conviction is punishable by:
- Misdemeanor probation for up to five years
- A maximum of one year in jail
- A maximum fine of $1,000
- Mandatory installation of IID for two years
- Driver license suspension for three years
- At least thirty months in a DUI school
In addition to that, you could receive an additional 30 days in jail if you’re found guilty under California VC 23572.
A fourth DUI charge in ten years is a felony in California. It attracts the following penalties upon conviction:
- A maximum of three years in state prison
- A maximum fine of $1,000
- Driver license suspension for five years
- 18 to 30 months in a DUI school
On top of that, you will likely receive additional 90 days in jail if found guilty under California VC 23572.
Penalty enhancements are usually mandatory. Therefore, you must serve time behind bars if you are found guilty of having a child in the vehicle while drunk or drugged driving. The court could increase your penalties even further for reasons like:
- Refusing to submit to DUI testing
- Having a BAC level of .15% or more
- Driving recklessly or speeding
Child Endangerment Charges
California law against child endangerment is under PC 273a. The law makes it an offense for any person to willfully expose a child (an individual below 18 years of age) to unjustifiable suffering, pain, or danger. You could still face charges for child endangerment even if the child never suffers actual physical harm.
You could face child endangerment charges together with DUI with a child under 14 charges in California. Having a child in your vehicle while driving while intoxicated puts the child at risk of danger, which satisfies the elements of child endangerment offense. But since you commit both crimes simultaneously, the prosecutor may charge you with both accounts. If found guilty, you will receive two separate penalties, which you must serve simultaneously.
In most cases, prosecutors only charge DUI defendants in situations like these only with DUI with a minor under 14. However, a more severe DUI violation involving a minor may not escape child endangerment charges.
For example, if your blood-alcohol content was .08% at the time of arrest, and you have no previous DUI-related conviction in your criminal record, the prosecutor might decide not to include child endangerment charges. But if you have prior DUI convictions, or your BAC level at the time of arrest was way above standard, or you were speeding at the time of arrest, and the child did not have their seatbelt on, the prosecutor might be compelled to add child endangerment charges to the underlying DUI charge.
Child endangerment is a wobbler offense in California. The prosecutor’s decision to charge you with a misdemeanor or felony is guided by the amount of risk you put the child.
If you face misdemeanor charges for endangering a child, you could receive a maximum of one year in prison on top of your enhanced penalties under California VC 23572. But if you face a felony charge for child endangerment, the court could give you an extra six years of prison time to be served consecutively with the enhanced penalties received under VC 23572.
If the child doesn’t suffer harm in the DUI incidence, the standard punishment for child endangerment according to California laws is as follows:
- A minimum of six months in jail on top of the DUI jail time
- An additional fine of not more than $1000 on top of the DUI fine
- Misdemeanor probation for at least four years
- A court-ordered ban from ever coming close to the child whose life you endangered
- Random DUI testing throughout the probation period
If you face child endangerment charges on top of charges under California VC 32572, you might have to remain in incarceration much longer than you anticipated. The fines will also be heftier. You could also face other consequences of a conviction that could affect your life in so many ways. For instance, you may never find suitable employment, especially one that pertains to dealing directly with children. Thus, it is advisable to find yourself a competent criminal defense attorney to help you plan a solid defense against your charges.
Possible Legal Defenses to California VC 23572 Charges
The consequences for conviction under California PC 23572 are life-altering. Other than the criminal implications of a conviction, your social and career life might be significantly affected if you are convicted. For instance, your relationship with your family might be affected considerably, especially if you are sentenced for child endangerment. However, the help of a competent criminal attorney could make a difference in the outcome of your case. Fortunately for you, several legal strategies are available that your attorney can use in your defense to have some or all of your charges dropped or reduced to more lenient charges. Some of these strategies are:
You could not be convicted under California VC 23572 if you were not driving while intoxicated. Therefore, the central part of your case that your attorney should challenge is the DUI charge. If you avoid a DUI conviction, you’ll not be convicted of other charges, including child endangerment. Again, no enhancement will apply for having a child in the vehicle at the time of your arrest. Fortunately, your attorney can use several defense strategies to challenge your DUI charge in court. Some of these strategies are:
Poor Driving Doesn’t Automatically Indicate DUI
You might have been driving poorly on the road and not driving under the effect of drugs/alcohol. Remember that California police are required by law to have probable cause for stopping motorists before arresting and charging them with DUI. The police might have stopped you due to your poor driving and assumed that you were driving while intoxicated. If that is the case, then the court will not find you guilty of DUI and will drop all the other charges.
Signs of Intoxication Do Not Indicate DUI
The arresting officer might have spotted signs of intoxication in you and concluded that you were drunk or drugged driving. For instance, slurred speech, a flushed face, red, watery eyes, an unsteady gait, and a strong odor of alcohol from your breath are all indicative of intoxication. During preliminary DUI investigations, the police are usually looking for one or more of these signs. However, having these signs doesn’t mean that you were driving under the effect of drugs/alcohol. You might have been tired, allergic, having a cold, or simply suffering from eye irritation.
There is also no specific way for a police officer to tell that the odor coming from your mouth is of alcohol or drugs. It could have been from something you were eating or had previously eaten. Therefore, your attorney can challenge all this evidence to cast doubts on the prosecutor’s case.
Inaccurate Field Sobriety Tests
Your attorney could also challenge the accuracy of the field sobriety test if the prosecutor includes the test results in his/her evidence. These tests are not always accurate and may not be reliable to determine whether or not you were intoxicated. For instance, your coordination and balance could be affected by factors other than intoxication, including fatigue and your clothing. It may also be impossible to walk straight if you are walking on uneven ground. If your attorney manages to challenge the accuracy of your test results, the prosecutor may not have sufficient evidence to charge you with DUI.
A False High BAC Result
A high BAC level is acceptable DUI evidence in California. However, a high BAC level does not always mean that a person’s blood-alcohol content is high. Sometimes, the testing equipment could register a high result while the person’s BAC level is standard in the real sense. The law requires law enforcement officers to continuously observe you for about fifteen minutes before administering a DUI breath test. Officers must make sure that you are not putting anything alcoholic in your mouth right before the test. Some of the substances that could falsely raise your BAC include medicines like cough syrups, mouthwashes and mouth sprays, and certain drinks.
If the officer conducted the BAC breath test right after arrest, your attorney would be able to challenge the test results as falsely high.
The Arresting Officer Did Not Follow Proper Procedure
If the police did not follow the correct procedure while arresting you, your attorney could take advantage of that to have your charges dropped or reduced. For instance, the arresting officer must have read your Miranda rights right after arrest. If that did not happen, it would be considered police misconduct and could cause all the evidence gathered by the police against you to be inadmissible in court.
When it comes to California DUI cases, the police must abide by all Title 17 regulations and procedures. They include having probable cause for arrest and giving you a chance to hire an attorney before questioning you after arrest. Your attorney will know the regulations and procedures that the police did not adhere to so as to challenge their evidence in court.
No Passenger Under 14
If the prosecutor has sufficient evidence against you for drunk driving, your attorney may not successfully challenge the DUI charge. However, you could compel the court to reduce your charges if the passenger inside your vehicle at the time of arrest was over 14. Note that you can only be charged under California VC 23572 if the passenger was a minor of 14 years and below.
Your attorney can provide the actual age of the passenger in court to have the court reduce your charges.
Note that if the passenger is still a minor (above 14 but below 18), you could still face charges for child endangerment. An experienced attorney will know the kind of strategy to use to have your charges reduced.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you have been arrested for drunk or drugged driving with a passenger under 14 in Pasadena, CA, it might benefit your case to hire an experienced criminal attorney. The criminal justice system in California can be complicated, and an experienced attorney might help you navigate it to the end. You also need legal guidance and help with defense to attain a favorable outcome of your case. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we have been around for a long time to know the kind of evidence and defense you need for your case. Call us at 626-689-2277, and let us plan a solid defense that will compel the court to reduce or drop your charges.