DWI with a Child in the Vehicle

child in carseat

Facing DUI with a Minor in the Car Charges in Middlesex County, NJ

New Jersey has some of the most extensive, highly enforced, and harshly punished DWI laws in the country, and these laws are consistently upheld by police and prosecutors. Moreover, things can go from bad to worse for a person accused of driving while intoxicated or under the influence when there was a minor passenger in the car at the time of the alleged offense. When the vehicle contains a juvenile occupant and you are arrested and charged with a DUI, not only will you be charged with a traffic violation for the DWI offense, but you could also be charged with a criminal offense for having a child in the vehicle. Whether you are a parent accused of driving drunk or drugged driving with your son or daughter in the backseat, or a teacher, coach, or babysitter accused of endangering someone else’s child while they were in your vehicle and under your care, the best move you can make now is to educate yourself on the legal consequences. Then, you should speak with a highly qualified DWI attorney about the strongest defenses that may be raised in your case.

Do you face charges for a DWI with a minor in the vehicle in Middlesex County, NJ? Our attorneys are prepared to assist you with challenging the DUI itself and any related criminal charges you may be facing in towns such as New Brunswick, Woodbridge, Old Bridge, Piscataway, Monroe Township, Carteret, and South Brunswick. Keep reading this page for more information about the possible penalties for driving under the influence with a child in the car in New Jersey, as well as your legal options. Contact our local office in Edison at (732) 659-9600 if you would like to speak to a DWI defense lawyer regarding your case free of charge.

DWI Offense for Having a Minor in the Vehicle, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.15 in New Brunswick

The legal limit in New Jersey is .08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Anyone who operates a motor vehicle on a road in NJ with a BAC above the legal limit is violating the state’s drunk driving laws. Drunk driving is a traffic violation that is addressed statutorily by N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, and the statute imposes an additional penalty for a DWI with a minor passenger under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.15. This means that, first and foremost, an individual convicted of a DWI with a minor will be subject to all of the penalties that come with a standard DWI conviction, including the following:

  • Jail Time
  • Possible Driver’s License Suspension
  • Ignition Interlock Device
  • Fines
  • Alcohol Education Classes
  • Community Service

In addition to facing these severe penalties, which may include the possibility of jail time, a person charged with a DWI for having a minor in the vehicle will also be subject to extra penalties. Specifically, a parent or guardian who is convicted of a DWI with a minor in the car can have their driver’s license suspended for up to six (6) months, with the six months being added to any license suspension imposed for the underlying DWI offense. This makes a huge difference in cases involving first-time offenders because recent changes to NJ DWI laws basically eliminated automatic license suspension in first offense DWI cases – which means that a person accused of a DWI with a minor might otherwise have been able to avoid getting their license suspended at all.

On top of that, a person who is convicted of a DWI with a minor in the vehicle, or who pleads guilty to the charges, can be required to perform up to five (5) days of community service. Again, this penalty would be added on top of any community service requirement already imposed by the court for the underlying DWI offense. Lastly, since a charge for a DWI with a minor in the motor vehicle is classified as a disorderly persons offense (misdemeanor), a conviction or guilty plea will leave the offender with a permanent record. This is not the case for a more standard DWI charge, since DWI charges are not treated the same as criminal or disorderly persons charges.

What Circumstances Warrant a Charge for Driving Under the Influence With a Minor Passenger in Piscataway NJ?

Of course, not all DWI cases trigger a charge for having a minor in the car. In fact, the statute makes it clear that there are certain circumstances that must be present in order for a driver to face these additional penalties:

  • DWI charges: The driver must be convicted of a DWI offense in violation of New Jersey traffic laws. This means that if the driver beats the DWI charges – either by winning at trial or through a guilty plea to a lesser traffic offense – then the charges for having a minor in the vehicle can also go away.
  • Minor passenger: The “minor” passenger in the vehicle at the time of the DWI or DUI violation is defined as someone who is under the age of 18.
  • Parent or guardian driver: The driver accused of a DWI offense must be either a “parent” or a “guardian” of the minor passenger. However, this requirement basically applies to just about anyone because the statute covers any individual who has been temporarily placed in a position of responsibility for care of the minor child, and that would presumably apply to anyone driving a vehicle with the child inside as a passenger.

The bottom line for anyone accused of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a child in the car is that it is very easy for prosecutors to bring these additional DWI charges. Additionally, it is important for anyone facing these charges to understand that the legal consequences can actually be much worse in some cases. Depending on the circumstances of your case, prosecutors may decide to bring criminal charges in addition to the DWI charges.

What Happens When You are Charged with Endangering the Welfare of a Child and DUI in Woodbridge?

DWI charges are usually classified as traffic violations, which means that they are handled in the Municipal Court located in the city or town where the drunk driving offense allegedly occurred. Even when the DWI case involves the presence of a minor in the vehicle, the charges are usually classified as a disorderly persons offense, and these cases are also handled in the local Municipal Court. Cases that are adjudicated at the Municipal Court level typically do not result in jail time because disorderly persons offenses do not have a presumption of incarceration. By contrast, cases involving indictable offenses are handled at the Superior Court level, and these cases can have a presumption of incarceration that requires the Superior Court judge to sentence the defendant to time in prison if convicted. In other words, the change in court venue brought on by a felony charge can significantly affect the totality and severity of penalties that a defendant is subject to.

So, is it possible for you to be charged with a felony for a DWI with a minor in the vehicle? The short answer to this question is: Yes. In certain instances, the charge can be accompanied by a felony for endangering the welfare of a child. In fact, N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4 explicitly prohibits a child’s parent or temporary guardian from causing harm to the child in a way that might be considered “abuse” or “neglect.”

Basically, if you are charged with a DWI/DUI offense that jeopardized the safety or wellbeing of a child whose care you were responsible for, police and prosecutors may seek to charge you with a more serious crime for endangering the welfare of a child. When you have the legal duty or responsibility for caring for the child in the vehicle at the time of a DUI offense, this is classified as a second degree crime. A conviction could result in the judge sentencing you to 5-10 years in prison. Moreover, there is a presumption of incarceration for this offense, which means that even a first-time offender with no prior criminal convictions would be subject to a mandatory prison sentence.

Arrested for Drunk Driving with your Kids in the Car? Child Protective Services may Investigate

In addition to facing prison time if convicted, a criminal charge for endangering the welfare of a child can also have repercussions in other aspects of your life. For example, you could be reported to the authorities for committing child abuse. In fact, it is common for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) to be notified when these kinds of charges are pending against someone. Beyond that, if you are going through a divorce and/or are involved in a child custody dispute with your ex, a conviction for a DWI offense with your child in the car could be used against you when the Family Court judge is determining custody.

How an Edison NJ DUI Attorney Can Help You Avoid the Worst Impacts of a DWI with a Child

If you are facing allegations based on alleged driving under the influence with a minor in NJ, you have every right to be worried right now. However, all is not lost. At the outset, when you have only been arrested and charged, an experienced DWI attorney may be able to help you avoid the worst impacts of the charge or charges. Since the underlying offense in these cases is always a driving under the influence violation, beating the DWI charge can mitigate the additional punishment you face as well.

As such, it is imperative that you have a lawyer who is familiar with the state’s impaired driving statutes and who knows how to highlight flaws in the prosecution’s case. For example, did the police have a legitimate reason to stop your car in the first place? If law enforcement did not have probable cause for the DWI stop, then any evidence of intoxication or drug use that they obtained after the traffic stop may be deemed inadmissible in court under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. Also, how strong is the prosecution’s evidence that you were intoxicated? The reality is that breathalyzer tests are not 100% accurate, and internal errors in the testing devices, or mistakes made by police when conducting the tests or analyzing the evidence, could result in the test results being thrown out in court.

Contact our offices in Middlesex County if you have been accused of driving while intoxicated or under the influence with a minor. Our lawyers can assist you with answering your questions in a free consultation: (732) 659-9600. We seek to have criminal and DUI charges dismissed in all ways possible for clients in East Brunswick, Plainsboro, Metuchen, North Brunswick, Cranbury, and Middlesex NJ.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.