If you are arrested and charged with DUI when you have a child in the car, you will likely face significantly harsher penalties than you would if there were no minor in the car. A DUI with a minor in the vehicle can be a separate charge or simply a circumstance that triggers a sentencing enhancement. In most cases, when a minor is in the car at the time that a drunk driver is operating it, all of the penalties are heightened, including imprisonment terms and fines. In some states, having a minor in the car could result in the DUI being reclassified in severity. However, each state has its own rules regarding the age that the minor must be for aggravated charges or penalties to apply.
In some states, DUI with a minor in the car is a felony DUI, rather than a misdemeanor, even if it is a first offense. For example, if you are detained for drunk driving in Texas and have a passenger under the age of 15 with you, you can be charged with a DWI with a child in the car. This is a felony that can result in serious penalties, such as 180 days to 2 years in state prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. You can be charged irrespective of whether the minor was your own child, and whether the child was injured as a result of the DUI.
When a felony DUI is charged because of a minor being in the car, it is likely that you will end up with a more serious blemish on your criminal record than a simple DUI offense. Because of this type of conviction, you may not be eligible for certain jobs or professions, and you may face challenges in trying to secure housing. In some situations, child abuse or endangerment may be charged on top of the DUI charge, resulting in a longer concurrent or consecutive sentence.
In other states, DUI with a minor in the car is not a felony charge, but it still triggers a sentencing enhancement with harsher penalties. For example, under California Vehicle Code section 23572, you may face mandatory jail time in addition to the usual penalties if you drive under the influence with a child under the age of 14 in the car with you. California is a state in which child endangerment may be charged in addition to the DUI. The sentencing enhancement for a first offense under section 23572 is a mandatory minimum of 48 hours in jail. The sentencing enhancement for a second offense is a mandatory minimum of 10 days in jail. The sentencing enhancement for a third offense is at least 30 days in jail. The sentencing enhancement for a fourth offense misdemeanor DUI is at least 90 days in jail.
In Pennsylvania, under Motor Vehicle Code section 3803(e) you will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor if you are arrested for a DUI offense when a minor under the age of 18 is your passenger. The penalties for this misdemeanor are up to 5 years of incarceration and a $10,000 fine. There are mandatory minimum penalties depending on whether it is a first or subsequent offense. Further, while most first-time DUI offenders are eligible for accelerated rehabilitative disposition (also known as ARD), which allows you to avoid a conviction and get the DUI charges dismissed and expunged, you will not be eligible for this program if you had a passenger who was under the age of 14 in the vehicle with you at the time of the DUI arrest.