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Home blog Criminal Defense How California Courts Handle Child Endangerment in Reckless Driving Cases

How California Courts Handle Child Endangerment in Reckless Driving Cases

By Michael Guisti on December 17, 2020

California has strict laws regarding the safety of children, taking any situation where a child is harmed – or potentially harmed – extremely seriously. While a criminal court can level hefty charges against anyone who harms or abuses a child, juries also convict parents and guardians who put children at risk of suffering an injury. Referred to as child endangerment, these cases involve exposing a child to drugs, poorly supervising them at a pool or beach, and even reckless driving.

Child Endangerment vs. Child Abuse

It is important to first understand that child endangerment does not mean the same thing as child abuse. Unlike child abuse, which can involve physically injuring a child, child endangerment is the act of allowing a child to be put at risk of suffering a serious injury or death. Defined under California Penal Code Section 273a(a), child endangerment is a broad law designed to protect children from both malicious and negligent actions. Where malicious actions may involve directly harming a child, negligent actions can involve reckless or careless behaviors that put a child in a dangerous situation.

For example, if a babysitter allowed a child to play in her parent’s pool without supervision, then she could be charged with child endangerment if the child drowned. Or, if a parent allows a child to access a liquor cabinet, then the parent could be charged with endangering the child’s health. On its own, child endangerment can result in a misdemeanor charge if the child was not injured or a felony if the child was injured or died due to the defendant’s actions.

But child endangerment can also be charged in conjunction with other crimes. This is extremely common in cases of reckless driving, which can include a DUI, hit-and-run accidents, and evading the police with a minor in the vehicle.

Reckless Driving With a Minor

Although most traffic crimes result in simple infractions, which can lead to no more than a minor fine and point on a driver’s license, serious traffic crimes can also lead to lengthy sentences in a county jail or state prison. California has strict laws regarding driving while intoxicated, including enhancement penalties that can turn a misdemeanor into a felony. In addition, any hit-and-run charge involving an injury is an automatic felony.

These cases can be further enhanced if a child was in the defendant’s vehicle, although it may depend on the age of the child. With regard to DUI, a parent, guardian, or caretaker can face a child endangerment enhancement on top of a DUI if the child in the car was 14 or younger. In cases such as these, the mandatory minimums for a DUI charge can be increased based on prior convictions according to California Vehicle Code 23572:

  • First offense: 48 hours in jail
  • Second offense: 10 days in jail
  • Third offense: 30 days in jail
  • Fourth (misdemeanor) offense: 60 days in jail

However, it is important to note that these punishments are separate from actual child endangerment penalties. No matter the child’s age, driving while intoxicated with a child in the car can lead to either:

  • Up to one year in a county jail for a misdemeanor; or
  • Up to two, four, or six years in a state prison for a felony.

These can be added on top of the punishment for a DUI, as well as any other traffic crimes you face, such as misdemeanor reckless driving or felony hit-and-run.

It is important to remember that these cases are not clear-cut, and you are well within your rights to defend yourself in criminal court. If you are facing child endangerment and reckless driving charges, reach out to an OC criminal defense attorney at Law Office of Michael L. Guisti. We have extensive experience representing clients across Orange County. With us at your side, you can trust that we will vigorously defend your case with professionalism and diligence. Call our office at (714) 530-9690 or toll-free at (888) 478-8999 to schedule a free consultation.

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