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DUI & Child Endangerment Laws in California

DUI with Child in Car

California law takes drunk driving very seriously, especially if a child is in the car. In some states, driving drunk with a minor passenger is a separate criminal offense.

To enact the penalty enhancement, the prosecution must demonstrate that you drove under the influence of alcohol. Simply put, if you are convicted of misdemeanor DUI with a minor passenger, you can face additional penalties.

It doesn't matter if you intended to harm the child, if your BAC was over the limit, or if your driving pattern was relatively safe; if law enforcement can show that you were driving under the influence, the penalties apply.

VC § 23572 Minor Passenger: Enhanced Penalty

California Vehicle Code § 23572 establishes enhanced penalties for DUIs involving minor passengers. According to California law, a driver may face enhanced penalties if there is a child passenger under the age of 14 in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

California DUI with a Child Passenger Penalties

If convicted of DUI with a child passenger enhancement, you may face mandatory jail time in addition to the penalties associated with the underlying DUI charge.

Penalties for a violation of VC § 23572:

  • First conviction: up to an additional 48 hours in jail
  • Second conviction: up to anadditional 10 days in jail
  • Third conviction: up to anadditional 30 days in jail
  • Fourth conviction: up to anadditional 90 days in jail

According to California law, a "previous" DUI is any drunk driving conviction that occurred within the past ten years.

Difference Between Drunk Driving & Child Endangerment Laws

Although some states have "DUI child endangerment statutes," California recognizes these crimes as separate offenses. If you were charged with DUI and law enforcement believes that a child was in the car, you can face separate criminal charges. The prosecutor can choose to charge you with:

  • DUI with a penalty enhancement under VC § 23572
  • DUI and child endangerment (a separate offense) under Penal Code 273(a)

In DUI cases involving a child passenger, the prosecutor may charge the driver with the DUI sentencing enhancement, or with the separate crime of child endangerment, or they can charge the defendant with both.

DUI and Child Endangerment Charges in CA

Child endangerment is covered under Section 273(a) of the California Penal Code. Child endangerment is called a “wobbler” offense, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of the case.

Under Section 273(a), any person who, under any circumstances that are likely to cause great bodily injury or death to a child, willfully causes or permits a child to be in a situation where their health is endangered, shall be charged with child endangerment.

  • As a misdemeanor, child endangerment is punishable by up to one year in the county jail.
  • As a felony, child endangerment is punishable by two, four, or six years in prison.

What Will You Be Charged With?

For a simple first-time DUI with a borderline BAC around .09%, the prosecutor would likely be satisfied with charging the defendant with a DUI penalty enhancement, instead of with PC 273(a).

A violation of § 23572 VC is punishable by a maximum of 180 days in jail. In contrast, child endangerment carries sentencing ranges from up to one year in jail to up to six years in a California State prison. Parents want to avoid prison at all costs.


If you were arrested for DUI with a child passenger, contact a defense attorney from the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. today.