Getting a DUI with a Minor Passenger in the Car

DUI aggravating factors and sentencing enhancements for child passengers.

By , Attorney University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 3/21/2022

Generally, DUI offenders will face enhanced penalties if their offense involved certain aggravating factors. One of these factors that can lead to more severe consequences is having a minor passenger when the DUI occurred.

How Minor Passengers Can Affect DUI Sentencing

The DUI laws of many states include provisions that impose additional penalties for offenses that involve child passengers. The DUI laws of each state provide the penalty ranges for a DUI conviction. These ranges are generally structured around how many prior convictions the offender has. Enhancements for minor passengers typically increase the possible penalty ranges or mandate a certain minimum penalty that more severe than it otherwise would be.

For example, in Hawaii, DUIs involving child passengers under the age of 15 carry a $500 fine and 48 hours in jail in addition to the normal DUI penalties. And, in New York, a first DWI is normally considered a misdemeanor and carries a maximum of one year in jail, $500 to $1,000 in fines, and a six-month license revocation. However, a first DWI with a child passenger is a felony and carries one to four years in prison, $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, and a one-year license revocation.

But even in states that don't have child-passenger enhancements written into the law, this factor can lead to more severe consequences for a DUI conviction. As noted above, state DUI laws provide penalty ranges for DUI convictions. When a DUI involves aggravating factors such as child passengers, prosecutors in plea bargaining and judges in sentences are much less likely to be lenient. The end result is a higher probability that the offender's sentence will be at the upper end of the penalty range.

Criminal Charges for Child Endangerment

All states have child endangerment laws that make it illegal for a parent or responsible adult to knowingly (or negligently) put a child in serious danger. Generally, driving drunk with a child in the car is going to fall under this definition. So, in some cases, a DUI offender who had a child in the car will face child endangerment charges in addition to DUI charges. If the driver is ultimately convicted of both charges, he or she will face separate penalties for each conviction.

Child Protective Services

When a parent is arrested for a DUI with a child in the car, chances are the arresting officer is going to contact child protective services (CPS). Depending on the situation, CPS involvement can lead to the loss of custody or the parent having to participate in certain services or monitoring for a period of time.

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