Getting arrested for driving under the influence is never good, but if you had children in the car at the time of your arrest, you'll be facing an even more complex legal battle. The courts do not always share a lot of information with you as to what your charges mean and how you should proceed, so you might be left scratching your head and asking "what now?" Here's a look at the possible consequences and how you should proceed to defend yourself.
What Are the Possible Consequences of Your Charges?
Every case is a bit different, and regulations vary somewhat by state. However, you should know that the consequences are far worse, in general, for someone who was driving drunk with a child in the car as opposed to driving drunk alone. Drunk driving puts your child at severe risk. It's not a responsible thing to do as a parent, for any reason, and the courts take it very seriously—which is why you'll probably face one or more of these consequences.
Child Endangerment Charges: Sometimes the court will choose to charge you not only with a DUI but also with a separate charge for child endangerment. If this occurs, you will have to hire a DUI lawyer to separately defend you against each charge. Child endangerment is a misdemeanor charge that could end in fines, jail time, or both, depending on the severity. Your lawyer may be able to get the charges dropped or dismissed, but know that this will be an uphill battle.
Enhanced DUI Penalties: If the court chooses not to pursue child endangerment charges, they may take the approach of just upping your DUI penalties. For instance, in most states, a first DUI offense is punishable with up to 6 months in jail. Rarely are people awarded the full six months in the case of a simple DUI. But if you had a child in the car, the judge may decide to maximize the sentence and punish you to the full extent of the law.
Protective Custody for Your Children: Depending on the circumstances of your arrest, the court may also take your children into protective custody. This will be done if they see you as an unfit parent due to your DUI charges. This is not typically done in the case of a first offense, but if you have a history of DUIs or child endangerment, it's a consequence you can expect.
How Can You Defend Yourself?
The number one way to defend yourself from these charges is to hire a lawyer who is experienced both with DUI charges and child endangerment cases. He or she can take a number of approaches to argue your innocence. These arguments could include:
- You were not actually drunk; the breathalyzer gave a false reading.
- You were only driving with your child because of an emergency, which clouded your judgment or would have put your child in even greater danger had you not driven.
- Your child was not actually in the car when you were driving drunk.
You and a DUI lawyer can work together to find character witnesses who will speak about your suitability as a parent. If you can show that this incident was just a momentary lapse in judgment and not representative of your general parenting, your punishment may not be as harsh.
Sometimes, charges are dropped due to a lack of evidence or because the evidence against you was obtained illegally. Keep in mind, however, that even if your charges are dropped, driving drunk with children in the car was a huge mistake. Consider looking into therapy and alcohol use rehabilitation services if necessary.