DUI Consequences Even More Serious When Minor Passengers Are Involved

May 13, 2022

By Gina Buskirk, Partner, Puget Law Group

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws in Washington are tough, but if you have a child in your car when cited for DUI, the laws are much tougher.  Washington DUI law designates certain aggravators that elevate the mandatory minimum penalties for DUI.  Having a breath or blood alcohol content of .15 or higher or refusing to provide a breath sample will increase mandatory minimum penalties.  However, if you are arrested for DUI and have a child passenger in your car under the age of 16, you will face additional harsher mandatory penalties under the law.

Endangering a minor passenger due to driving under the influence not only results in a longer jail sentence; it may also affect your rights as a parent, stepparent, or other custodian. Washington law mandates that an officer make a notation in the police report if any driver who is arrested for driving under the influence or being in physical control of a vehicle under the influence has a minor in the vehicle. Pursuant to RCW 46.61.507, it is also mandatory for law enforcement to notify Child Protective Services (CPS) if the driver is the child’s “parent, guardian, legal custodian, or sibling or half-sibling.” CPS will follow up with a parent in this situation and will make a home visit and investigate to ensure the safety of any children in the household.

Anyone convicted of a violation of DUI or Physical Control Under the Influence, where the court further finds the offense was committed while a passenger under the age of sixteen was in the vehicle, faces stiff mandatory penalties. And as of January 1, 2022, these mandatory penalties became even tougher. These penalties are:

  • An additional sentence of 12 months of Ignition Interlock Device (IID) for each passenger under the age of 16 if the BAC level was below .15; or
  • An additional sentence of 18 months of ignition interlock device (IID) for each passenger under the age of 16 if the BAC level was above .15;

An additional jail sentence above the other mandatory penalties may also be imposed:

  • For a first DUI offense, the court shall order an additional 24 hours of incarceration (consecutive) for each passenger under the age of 16, and an additional fine of at least $1,000;
  • A second DUI offense within 7 years will result in an additional 5 days of incarceration (consecutive) for each passenger under the age of 16 and an additional fine of at least $2,000;
  • A third offense within 7 years will yield 10 days of incarceration (consecutive) for each passenger and an additional fine of at least $3,000.

In addition to the mandatory DUI penalties, you could also face an additional criminal charge of Reckless Endangerment for any child in your vehicle.  Reckless Endangerment is the act of recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person.  If the child in your vehicle is related by blood or marriage, this offense can even be charged as a “Domestic Violence” offense. A conviction for Domestic Violence Reckless Endangerment will result in the loss of firearm rights, potential implementation of No Contact Orders, and can even affect your ability to qualify for rental housing or to volunteer in certain settings, including schools.

If you are charged with a DUI or Physical Control you need the help of an experienced DUI attorney to guide you through the process and obtain the best results.  Even if you have not been charged in court yet, there is no time to lose. DOL may suspend your license before you even see a judge. Contact Puget Law Group for a free consultation to ensure you understand the process and your rights.

Gina Buskirk is a Partner at Puget Law Group LLP, specializing in criminal defense and traffic crimes including DUI and Reckless Driving.  With nearly two decades of experience as a prosecutor, she spent much of her career training officers in traffic enforcement and criminal investigation.  She also taught legal updates to law enforcement officers and attorneys.  As a pro tem judge, she regularly handles criminal and traffic calendars.  Her experience in various roles in the criminal justice system gives her unique insight into how to best represent her clients in a way that gets positive results in challenging cases.