The penalties for drunk driving in Virginia can be increased if the driver has a child or anyone under the age of 18 in the vehicle at the time. A DUI with a child passenger can result in mandatory jail time and increased fines. If you have been charged with a DUI with a child passenger, talk to your Virginia DUI defense attorney about your rights.
DUI With Child Passengers in Virginia
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-270, there are increased penalties for driving under the influence with a passenger under the age of 18. In addition to other DUI penalties, any person convicted of a DUI “while transporting a person 17 years of age or younger” shall be
- fined an additional minimum of $500 and not more than $1,000, and
- sentenced to a mandatory minimum period of confinement of five days.
This includes transporting anyone 17-years-old or under, whatever relation the minor is to the driver. This could include a driver's child, relative, or friend. For example, an 18-year-old driver who is charged with drunk driving with a 17-year-old friend in the passenger seat could face additional fines and mandatory jail time.
A second offense for driving while intoxicated with a minor passenger can also result in an 80-hour community service requirement in addition to all other fines and jail sentences.
Child Abuse or Child Endangerment in a DUI Accident
In most cases, impaired driving with a child in the car will result in enhanced DUI penalties. However, if the impaired driver is driving with a reckless disregard for the minor's safety, he or she may be charged with felony child abuse.
Under Virginia law, it is a Class 6 felony for any parent, guardian, or other responsible person whose willful act or omission in the care was so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life. This may include a DUI while committing some other traffic violations, such as
- reckless driving,
- speeding, or
- failing to put a child in a safety restraint.
If a child is seriously injured in a drunk driving accident, the driver could face even more serious felony child abuse charges. Any parent, guardian, or other person responsible for a child under the age of 18 who permits serious injury to the life or health of the child is guilty of a Class 4 felony. A serious injury can include
- severe burn or laceration,
- maiming, or
- life-threatening internal injuries.
Non-Criminal Consequences of a DUI with a Child Passenger
A DUI arrest with a minor passenger could have further consequences beyond jail time and fines. It may also impact parenting rights, child custody, or adoption.
When going through a divorce or fighting for child custody, a DUI can be problematic. Judges may consider a DUI with a child passenger to be a threat to the child's safety, which is a factor in determining parenting and custody rights.
Similarly, anyone who has been through an adoption understands what a long and complicated process adopting a child can be. Any history of child endangerment can be a determining factor in an adoption. A conviction for a DUI with a minor passenger may prevent a family from adopting a child.
Defenses to a Virginia DUI with Child Passenger Charge
Many innocent people are arrested on suspicion of drunk driving but still plead guilty because they think they have no other choice. There are a number of possible defenses to DUI charges, including a DUI with a child passenger. This includes challenging the prosecutor's evidence, including
- faulty chemical test results,
- false-positive test results,
- no probable cause to make a stop, or
- medical or physical reasons a driver appeared impaired.
Talk to your Charlottesville DUI defense lawyer about your case and how to defend yourself against criminal drunk driving charges in Virginia.
Charlottesville Child Passenger DUI Defense Attorney
If you have been accused of drunk driving with a child in the vehicle, the penalties in Virginia are increased to include mandatory jail time, even for a first offense. Talk to an experienced Charlottesville DUI defense attorney about your case and how to fight a DUI with a minor passenger charge. Contact Charlottesville attorney Thomas M. Wilson today for a free consultation.