Are the Penalties More Severe for a DWI with a Child in the Car?

A drunk driving charge is serious enough on its own. If you’re pulled over for drunk driving with a minor in your car, however, you could be facing additional charges.

This is why it’s so important for people wrongly accused of drunk driving to speak to an experienced Texas DWI defense lawyer as soon as possible.

While driving intoxicated is dangerous and irresponsible, police don’t always get it right. Many of the tests used by police to determine whether a person is under the influence of alcohol are reliant almost entirely on the officer’s judgment.

Police are human like anyone else, and they can and do make mistakes. When police make mistakes, it can lead to an innocent person being forced to spend time and money just to protect their legal rights — and possibly fight a court battle to retain custody of their children. 

If you have been charged with DWI while you had a child in your vehicle, it’s in your best interest to contact a Texas criminal defense lawyer right away.

Texas Law for DWI with a Child Passenger

Similar to other states, Texas has an enhanced statute for DWI with a minor passenger. Under Texas law, it’s a state jail felony for an individual to drive intoxicated with a child under the age of 15. 

The age of the child passenger differs from state to state. For example, in California, the law imposes an enhanced penalty for drunk driving with a child passenger under the age of 14. Under Pennsylvania law, there are enhanced penalties for driving while intoxicated with a child passenger under the age of 18. 

It’s also important to note that the “age of majority” is something different. Like other states, Texas sets its age of majority at 18, which is the age an individual is considered a legal adult. This separate legal definition is different from the one used in the DWI statute. Additionally, other statutes within the penal code contain various age limits for offenses involving children, such as causing injury to a child in Texas.

Penalties for Driving Drunk with a Child in the Car

If you are charged with driving while intoxicated with a child passenger in your vehicle, you can expect to face more serious charges than if you had been pulled over on your own. 

For example, someone convicted of a first-time DWI while alone in their car can typically expect to be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. However, once there is a child present in the vehicle, the charges will almost immediately upgrade to a state jail felony, whether it’s a first-time drunk driving offense or not. 

If convicted, an individual charged with a state jail felony could spend a minimum of 180 days in jail with a maximum sentence of two years.

Additionally, the law requires a mandatory and automatic license suspension that can last for up to 180 days. Individuals convicted of DWI with a child in the car may also be fined up to $10,000 and face additional fines to have their driver’s license reinstated. 

Other states impose even more severe penalties for driving while intoxicated with a child in the car. In Pennsylvania, for example, an individual convicted of drunk driving with a child under age 18 in the car, can be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison. 

Child Endangerment Charges from Child Protective Services

In addition to criminal charges, individuals charged with drunk driving with a child passenger may also face the possibility of a child welfare investigation. Understandably, this can be a frightening thing to encounter.

If Child Protective Services (CPS) suspects that a child has been endangered, they may open an investigation into the parent. If they determine the child is not safe in the parent’s custody or could be exposed to danger in the future, they also may potentially remove the child from the parent’s custody.

Under Texas law, CPS has the authority to do this when an investigation shows that a parent has endangered their child.

This applies to children under the age of 15. Child endangerment is a separate charge from DWI with a child passenger, which means an individual charged with these offenses will face legal action in both criminal court and civil court. 

It goes without saying that the outcome of your criminal case could have an impact on any case involving CPS and child custody.

This is why you shouldn’t hesitate to defend yourself with the help of a knowledgeable Texas criminal defense lawyer. 

Discuss Your Case with a Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer 

If you have been charged with DWI with a child passenger, it’s important to act quickly to protect your rights, including custody rights with respect to your child, and talk to an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer. Contact DWI Defense Lawyer John Helms in Dallas at (214) 666-8010 about the next steps in your case.   

Attorney John Helms

T: (214) 666-8010