Taking a risk while driving impaired always has serious consequences, but driving while impaired with children in your vehicle makes the penalties even worse for obvious reasons.
In Minnesota, having a minor under the age of 16 in your vehicle during a DWI is an “aggravating factor” that will increase the degree of the DWI charges and increase the standard penalties. This aggravating factor does not apply if the offending driver is within 36 months of the age of the passengers. For example, if the driver is 17 and the passenger is 15, then the presence of the 15-year-old would not be an aggravating factor.
There has been controversy about whether multiple children under 16 should each count as a separate aggravating factor, but usually the children are all counted collectively as one aggravating factor. The law is unclear on this point though, and the issue has not been addressed by the appellate courts or clarified by the legislature.
Other “aggravating factors” for DWI’s include testing at or above 0.16 or having a prior impaired driving incident within ten years. DWI charges start out as a 4th Degree misdemeanor, and each aggravating factor can be used to bump up the degree to 3rd or 2nd degree charges, which are both gross misdemeanors. A 1st Degree DWI is a felony but only prior offenses can result in this charge. Having children in the vehicle certainly will not help, but it will not contribute to a felony-level charge.
Having a child in the vehicle also triggers a license plate impoundment, which requires the offender to obtain and display “whiskey plates” on all vehicles with their name on the title plus the vehicle used for the offense regardless of who’s name is on the title. The length of this penalty is at least one year but can be longer depending on other factors such as alcohol concentration level and prior incidents.
Another side effect of having children in the vehicle during a DWI is that it can trigger an investigation by the County Child Protection Services Office, which includes multiple interviews of family members and visits to your home. The prosecution also could bring additional charges of Child Endangerment to go with the aggravated DWI charges. As you can imagine, this situation looks very bad in court with the prosecutor and the judge, and eventually a jury if you take your case to trial.
The safest practice is to never get behind the wheel with children in your vehicle even after drinking a small amount of alcohol. We commonly see this situation come up when the driver is a parent who had 1-3 drinks with their dinner out with the family and then drove home. The laws have purposely been set up with very harsh consequences, so always err on the side of caution. If you do find yourself facing aggravated DWI charges because of children being present in your vehicle, it is critical to hire a seasoned DWI attorney who knows how to defend you and guide you into a better position with the courts. Ultimately the goal is to prevent even more damage to families by having parents locked up or unable to work due to having no driving privileges. Contact our office today for representation.