DUI and Child Endangerment Laws


Florida law treats all DUI offenses seriously. But there are circumstances under which even a first-time DUI offense can be punishable by an enhanced penalty and constitute a second, separate criminal offense altogether. Under Florida Statute 316.193(4), enhanced penalties are imposed when someone is convicted of driving under the influence with a child under the age of 18 present in the vehicle. 


These circumstances also expose the driver to being charged with felony neglect of a child under Florida Statute 827.03 


If you or your family member is charged with DUI while accompanied by a minor child passenger, you need to contact a DUI defense lawyer with years of experience with exceptional knowledge of the law and court procedures. At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, our attorneys have years of experience both prosecuting and defending DUI cases. We can begin to help you immediately. 



Child Neglect and DUI in Florida 


The act of driving under the influence of alcohol or other chemical substances is universally recognized as extremely dangerous to the general public and to those persons in the DUI driver’s vehicle. Incidents in which DUI drivers kill or injure themselves and others occur frequently.  


Because of the grave risk of serious injury to any passenger riding in a vehicle with a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol, legislatures across the country have continued to make DUI penalties more severe. But willfully or negligently risking the life of a child is viewed by society as so inexcusable that the law designates the offense as a serious felony. 


What are the Penalties for DUI with a Child on Board? 


If you are charged with first offense DUI when a child under the age of 18 is with you in the vehicle, you face enhanced penalties which include up to 9 months in jail, a minimum $1,000 to $2,000 fine, and the mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for a minimum of six months.  


DUI first-offense penalties normally include no jail but could potentially include up to 6 months in jail and a minimum fine of only $500. 


What are the Penalties for Endangering a Child by Neglecting Safety? 


The severity of the punishment for felony child neglect depends on whether the child passenger suffered “great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement.” If the child did sustain such injuries, the offense is a second-degree felony carrying up to 15 years in prison, and a $10,000 fine. Even without an injury to the child, the offense can still be prosecuted as a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. 


How DUI Can Result in Felony Child Endangerment Charges in Florida 


The law imposes a legal obligation on all people who have custody or responsibility for children under the age of 18. Children depend on the decisions of adults to whose care they have been entrusted. This legal responsibility applies to parents, teachers, and others.  


Florida law defines precisely what will constitute criminal child endangerment by neglect in F.S. 827.03. The application of the law to someone driving under the influence of alcohol with a child in the vehicle falls under the following section of the statute: 


Neglect of a child means: 

. . . A caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person.i 


. . . [N]eglect of a child may be based on repeated conduct or on a single incident or omission that results in, or could reasonably be expected to result in, serious physical or mental injury, or a substantial risk of death, to a child.ii 


The criminal statute prohibiting child endangerment provides the following description of the offense: 


“A person who willfully or by culpable negligence neglects a child without causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child commits a felony of the third degree, . . .” 


What Counts as Culpable Negligence Under Florida Law? 


The Florida District Court of Appeals ruled in 2022 that proof of culpable negligence requires proof of substantially more than mere negligence.  


To convict a DUI driver who has a child in the vehicle during the DUI of criminal child endangerment, the court of appeals ruled that the prosecution needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver’s conduct demonstrated “‘reckless disregard for human life,’ or an ‘entire want of care which would raise the presumption of indifference to consequences; or such wantonness or reckless or grossly careless disregard of the safety and welfare of [the child], which is equivalent to an intentional violation of them.’”iii 


In a DUI case, the difference between ordinary negligence and culpable negligence is the degree to which the defendant ignored the known and reasonably anticipated risks of injury to the child.  


A driver who is sober and is involved in an auto accident while driving their child to school may be negligent without being culpably negligent.  


Defending DUI and Child Endangerment Charges in Florida 


DUI defense lawyers work closely with the law that applies to cases involving aggravating circumstances. These are the kinds of cases in which penalties are enhanced because of the alleged presence of especially heinous behavior by the defendant. Driving drunk with a child in the care is considered one of these cases. 


But skilled DUI defense lawyers know that the state cannot win a conviction unless they first prove the DUI occurred. Holding the prosecution to their burden of proof is the chief mission of professional criminal defense lawyers. 


The facts the prosecution must first establish include: 

  • The police had reasonable articulable suspicion to stop the car. 
  • The officer developed sufficient additional suspicion of DUI during their personal interaction with the driver to request the driver perform field sobriety tests. 
  • The field sobriety tests were administered correctly and in full compliance with the protocols. 
  • The officer advised the DUI defendant of their prearrest rights. 
  • The police properly followed all breathalyzer procedures. 


Learn More > It’s Not Minor: DUI With Kids in the Car 


Tampa DUI Defense  


If you need to find an experienced DUI defense lawyer and one skillful in defending associated child endangerment charges, call the Stechschulte Nell Law Firm at 813-280-1244 for help. We are ready to defend your case.  

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