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The Penalties for a DWI with a Child Present in Your Vehicle

All DWI-related charges are punished harshly in North Carolina. However, the sentence can be even more severe if you are arrested for a DWI with a child present in your motor vehicle. “Laura’s Law” was signed into law in 2011. The law was named after a 17-year-old teenager named Laura Fortenberry, who was killed in 2010 in an accident with a drunk driver. The driver had been convicted of three DWIs. Under this law, defendants face increased fines and penalties for subsequent DWI convictions. The penalties are even more severe when the child is in the vehicle with the intoxicated driver.

Driving With a Child Present is a Grossly Aggravating Factor

Driving while intoxicated with a child present is a grossly aggravating factor that automatically results in the second-harshest level of punishment. As a result, if you are arrested with a child in your vehicle, you will face a Level One punishment. These types of enhanced penalties can apply when the intoxicated driver is found with one or more of the following types of passengers in the vehicle:

  • A Child under 18
  • An individual with the mental capacity of a child under 18
  • An individual with a physical disability that would prevent them from leaving the vehicle at the time the driver was intoxicated

When a defendant is convicted of a Level One punishment, they will face a minimum jail sentence of 30 days up to a maximum of two years, a fine of up to $4,000, and a driver’s license suspension of one year with no possibility of restricted driving privileges.

The Penalties for Child Endangerment from a DWI

According to North Carolina law, misdemeanor child abuse occurs when the child’s caretaker:

  • Inflicts physical injury on the child,
  • Allows physical injury to be inflicted on the child, or
  • Creates or allows a substantial risk of physical injury to the child

In most cases, a judge would consider any case involving a child in the vehicle while committing a DWI to fall under the third category of child abuse. Child endangerment is considered a Class A1 misdemeanor, meaning you could face up to five months in jail or on probation if convicted. The civil and social consequences of being convicted of child abuse are also severe. You could lose custody of your child if you share custody. Child protective services (CPS) could begin an investigation, and you could lose custody of your child or children. In addition to child abuse charges, child endangerment is a grossly aggravating factor for DWI sentencing. It is among the most serious factors judges account for when deciding on the penalties of a DWI conviction. Having a single grossly aggravating factor sets a DWI conviction at a level 2 sentence. This is the second highest sentence with a maximum fine of $2,000 and a minimum jail time of seven days up to one year.

Defending Against DWI and Child Endangerment Charges in North Carolina

If you are facing DWI charges involving child endangerment, it is crucial to reach out to an experienced attorney. An attorney can investigate your case and gather evidence to poke holes in the prosecution’s case. The prosecution must prove every element of the charges against you. If your constitutional rights were violated during the search and seizure or problems with chemical BAC testing, your attorney might be able to petition the court to dismiss the charges.

When a dismissal is not possible, your attorney may be able to negotiate a favorable plea bargain. In exchange for pleading guilty, the prosecution will lower the severity of the charges against you. An attorney can bring forth mitigating factors to negotiate the best outcome possible in your case. The longer you wait to hire an attorney, the less time your attorney will have to develop an aggressive, effective legal strategy to protect you.

Have You Been Arrested for a DWI with a Child in the Vehicle in Charlotte, North Carolina? We Can Help

Suppose you allegedly had a child or another protected class of passenger in your vehicle when you were arrested for a DWI in Charlotte. In that case, you could be facing extremely significant penalties. You should not wait to hire a criminal defense attorney, especially if you have been accused of one or more aggravating factors along with your DWI charge. Contact the Charlotte criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC to schedule a free case evaluation.