The Charge of DWI With a Passenger Under 15 Is a Serious Situation

February 2, 2024 | By Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys
The Charge of DWI With a Passenger Under 15 Is a Serious Situation

Any driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction in Texas can have serious consequences, including formal criminal sentencing terms and various personal repercussions that can flow from such a conviction. Most people don’t realize that a charge of DWI with a passenger under 15 is a potential felony or that the driver could also be charged with child endangerment stemming from the same incident.  

If you are convicted of DWI with a passenger under the age of 15, the criminal and civil consequences can be even more serious than a typical DWI. Someone facing this charge may receive a sentence of incarceration, a state jail felony conviction, loss of their driver’s license and driving privileges, and substantial fines. It is crucial to consult with an experienced and skilled DWI defense attorney in Fort Worth to navigate this charge.

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After a DWI With a Child Passenger Arrest, You Could Face Child Endangerment Charges

Transporting a child passenger under age 15 when you are intoxicated may be considered child endangerment or child abuse under Texas law. A DWI arrest while transporting a child could lead to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services stepping in to investigate and possibly taking your child from your custody.

All of these penalties can potentially lead to long-term consequences that may impact your job, education, immigration status, future employment opportunities, and more. If you were recently arrested for DWI involving a child passenger, you need an experienced Texas criminal DWI defense attorney to help you resolve these charges and address any child abuse allegations you may face. 

The skilled DWI defense lawyers at Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys offer extensive experience and a successful history of helping people defend DWI charges, We have achieved acquittals, reduced the severity of our clients’ charges, and negotiated the best potential plea agreement to mitigate these harsh consequences. Reach out today for a free consultation and to learn more about your legal rights and options. 

If You Were Arrested for DWI With a Child Passenger, There’s a Lot at Stake

DWI With a Child Passenger

People get pulled over by police every day for a variety of reasons. Whether you don’t come to a full stop at a stop sign or you are suspected of impaired driving, every traffic stop by the police is serious in its own way. If a traffic violation occurs with kids in the car, the offense becomes even more serious. When a driver has been drinking and gets behind the wheel with children passengers, Texas DWI law requires severe consequences.

If you are facing a DWI charge involving a passenger under 15, you need to understand the basics about DWI charges in Texas and child endangerment, as well as what happens if you enter into a plea agreement to resolve charges as serious as these.

DWI with a Passenger Under 15 Can Be a Felony Charge

When a driver is arrested for DWI with a child passenger under 15 years of age in Fort Worth or elsewhere in Tarrant County, the driver will usually be charged with a state jail felony offense.

In Texas, the legal theory is when you operate a vehicle with a child or children in the car, you are taking responsibility for their safety as you operate the car. When driving under the influence, you are endangering that child’s safety, and that can result in some serious legal penalties.

Texas Penal Code Section 49.045 provides that the crime of Driving While Intoxicated With A Child Passenger under the age of 15 has been committed when the prosecutor proves the following elements:

  • The individual is driving a motor vehicle in a public place 
  • while intoxicated and
  • A passenger in the vehicle is under 15 years old.

The law further defines intoxication as a driver having a blood alcohol content of at least 0.08 percent or when the driver lacks the use of their physical or mental faculties due to the consumption of alcohol or drugs as they operate a vehicle. The second definition is more subjective than a breathalyzer or blood alcohol test and is, therefore, more open to challenge in a court of law.

What Penalties Does a Charge of DWI with a Child Passenger in Texas Carry?

If you are found guilty of a DWI with a child passenger in Texas, you may face several different penalties, both criminal and civil, such as:

  • Up to two years in a state prison
  • Fines up to $10,000
  • Suspension of your driver’s license for up to six months
  • Paying a fee to have your license reinstated and to keep your license in the amount of $2,000 per year for three years
  • The installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle
  • Alcohol and drug treatment or rehabilitation programs

These penalties can be imposed even if no one, including the child, is hurt. It’s important to note that you will face more severe penalties if someone is injured as a result of the DWI or if you have any prior criminal convictions.

Possible Civil (Non-Criminal) Penalties for Texas Child Endangerment as a Result of a Conviction of DWI With a Passenger Under 15 Years Old

Defend the DWI Charges

Beyond the criminal aspect of the DWI charges, you may also be charged with child endangerment.

Often, these cases involve civil investigations by Child Protective Services and if they determine the charges are valid, you can lose custody of your children. With so much at stake, it is even more vital for you to understand the impact of charges involving a DWI with a child under 15 and what the full consequences of that situation may be.

The Texas statute on child endangerment reads:

“A person commits an offense if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, by act or omission, engages in conduct that places a child younger than 15 years in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment.”

Child endangerment also applies to reckless driving with a child passenger, failing to secure your child with a seat belt or appropriate car seat, or abandoning a child under 15 years old in a vehicle. These charges may be filed along with DWI charges.

Because this serious form of DWI offense will likely be treated as a state jail felony, you may face other serious consequences that result from a felony conviction.

A felony conviction could have the following long-term personal consequences:

  • Forfeiture of the right to vote or hold political office
  • A criminal felony record
  • Losing your right to own or possess a firearm
  • Disqualification from receiving certain types of public assistance or financial aid
  • Ineligibility to engage in certain professions, such as the practice of law or medicine
  • If you are convicted of DWI with a child in the vehicle, you can be charged with child endangerment.

What Defensed Do You Have Against the Charge of DWI With a Child Passenger?

If you are facing DWI charges, you have several legal rights and options. A qualified DWI defense lawyer can listen to your unique situation and explain how the law relates to your circumstances. Depending on the facts of your case, you may have one or more of the following options:

If there are factual circumstances that support a dismissal or finding of not guilty, your attorney may suggest you defend the charges in court. With the right motions or a solid trial defense, you might receive a dismissal or a not guilty finding after trial. 

For example, if the police officer did not have a reasonable suspicion that you had violated any laws when they pulled you over, you may be able to challenge the traffic stop. If the stop is determined to lack reasonable cause, the entire arrest and charges can be dismissed. Other possible defenses might include if the passenger in your car was actually older than 15 or if the police officer did not properly administer field sobriety tests or a breathalyzer test, you may choose to present a solid defense to this charge.

Consider a Texas DWI Plea Agreement or Deal

Plea agreements are a common way to resolve criminal cases before they go to trial. In a plea deal, the prosecutor assigned to your case agrees to reduce the charges or change your sentence in exchange for you to plead guilty to the charges.

Request Reduced Charges

In cases where the charges are reduced, prosecutors could agree to lower the level of the charges in exchange for your agreement to plead guilty to a charge that is less severe than what you were originally charged with.

Ask For Reduced Sentencing

Sentence reduction plea deals offer a resolution of your case under the same charges you are currently facing but with a sentence that is at the lower end of the spectrum for your criminal charge.

Convicted of DWI

For example, a DWI in Texas that may result in up to six months in prison and fines of $1,000 may be reduced to a sentence of no jail time with a lower fine, but the original charge will still be a part of your criminal record.

Why Plea Deals Aren’t Always the Right Option

Prosecutors are often encouraged to strike plea bargains in many cases simply to help reduce the strain on the court system, but this isn’t the right path for everyone. For example, sometimes, there are circumstances that show the accused driver was making the very best decision when the crime was committed and should be found not guilty.

For this reason and others, working with a skilled criminal attorney with experience in finding the best alternatives so you can make these kinds of decisions (and in negotiating plea bargains when it is the right path) is imperative.

The Charge of DWI With a Passenger Under 15 is a Complicated Situation. Don’t Face it Alone

If you have been arrested for DWI with a child under 15 in your motor vehicle in Fort Worth or the surrounding area, you should exercise your right to remain silent and to speak to a Fort Worth DWI lawyer before answering any questions. Because of the serious nature of the offense of DWI with a child passenger in Texas, it is important to find an experienced DWI attorney as soon as possible. 

At Fulgham Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys, we can carefully investigate your facts and circumstances so that we can develop effective defense strategies to protect you from the harsh consequences of a conviction for this serious DWI offense. Contact our Fort Worth office now by calling (817) 877-3030 or complete our online contact form for a free and confidential consultation with a skilled Fort Worth DWI Attorney.

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