Under California law, it is a crime to cause or permit a child to be placed in a dangerous situation. Most parents and caregivers never intentionally do something to endanger a child but can end up doing something that others would consider dangerous. If a judge or jury agrees that the actions were dangerous, the individual could face criminal child endangerment charges.
One of the most common ways people encounter child endangerment charges in the East Bay involves impaired driving with a child passenger. Driving with a minor passenger when the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs can be considered child endangerment. A prosecutor could charge child endangerment as a separate offense or it could be used as an enhancement to increase the penalties for a DUI.
DUI Penalties for Child Endangerment Under Vehicle Code 23572 VC
California Vehicle Code 23572 is not a separate criminal offense for a DUI but it provides for “additional punishments.” According to the code, if any person is convicted of a DUI and a minor under 14 years of age was a passenger in the vehicle at the time of the offense, the court shall impose the following penalties, in addition to other DUI penalties:
- 1st DUI: imprisonment of 48 hours, no part of which shall be stayed
- 2nd DUI: imprisonment of 10 days, no part of which shall be stayed
- 3rd DUI: imprisonment of 30 days, no part of which shall be stayed
- 4th DUI: imprisonment of 90 days, no part of which shall be stayed
The main difference between child endangerment with and without a DUI is based on the age of the child. Criminal child endangerment charges can apply involving any minor under the age of 18. However, DUI child endangerment penalties only apply for minors under the age of 14 (13 and younger).
For example, if a driver was arrested for a DUI and had a child passenger 12 years old, the driver could face enhanced DUI charges, or DUI charges and child endangerment charges. If the child passenger was 16, the driver could not face enhanced DUI charges, but could still face DUI charges and child endangerment charges.
If a driver was arrested for a DUI and charged with child endangerment, they could face either enhanced DUI penalties or child endangerment criminal charges. If the person is convicted of child endangerment under PC 273a, they cannot face enhanced DUI penalties based on the same event.
Child Endangerment Under Penal Code 273a PC Text
Under California Penal Code Section 273a, any person who:
- Under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering; or
- Having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured; or
- Willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered, is guilty of child endangerment.
In the case of a child passenger in a car with an impaired driver, if the child is not injured, the driver may still be considered to have willfully caused or permitted the child to be placed in a situation where the child is in danger.
The penalties for child endangerment depend on the situation, and the offense could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. As a misdemeanor, child endangerment carries the possibility of jail for up to 6 months and a fine of up to $1,000. As a felony, child endangerment could include up to 6 years in state prison.
Prescription Drug DUI with a Child Passenger
Many people are quick to speak out against a parent arrested for a DUI with their child in the car. However, the reality can be much more complicated. Many of these DUI and child endangerment cases involve prescription medications. A parent may be taking legally prescribed medication that impairs their ability to drive.
Even if the parent did not know the drugs could make them sleepy, cause vision problems, or slower response times, they may be considered “guilty” of a drug DUI. The penalties for a drug DUI are generally the same as for an alcohol DUI. Even a first-time DUI under doctor-prescribed medicine may result in a 6-month suspended license, 48 hours in jail, and expensive fines and fees.
Defenses to Child Endangerment Charges in California
Just because someone is accused of endangering their child does not mean they are guilty of a crime. Some people may see normal activities as dangerous for children, including playing football, surfing, or riding an ATV. There are lawful defenses to charges of child endangerment.
After a DUI, if the driver can successfully challenge the state's chemical test results, then the driver may not be convicted of a DUI. If the driver is not considered impaired, then it may be difficult to explain how the parent was endangering the child if the driver was not impaired. There may be a number of ways to challenge chemical test results, which are subject to errors, mistakes, uncalibrated machines, and cross-contamination. Talk to your East Bay DUI defense lawyer about your options.