When you drive while drunk, you endanger not only yourself but your passengers, nearby pedestrians and other motorists as well. It can be especially dangerous for passengers of an inebriated driver since their lives are in the hands of someone whose intoxication has impacted their driving ability. Doubly so if those passengers are young children.
If an officer pulls you over on a New Jersey road and finds you drunk, they can charge you with driving while intoxicated (DWI). But if you have at least one minor passenger, such as your child, at the time of the charge, you could face an additional offense that carries penalties separate from a DWI charge.
A crime in more ways than one
Per New Jersey law, if a court convicts you of DWI while you had a passenger 17 years old or younger, the court will additionally charge you with a disorderly persons offense. This offense is a criminal misdemeanor that shows up on your record. If convicted, you will forfeit your driver’s rights for a maximum period of six months. You’ll also have to serve a six-month prison sentence and render community service for five days.
Prosecutors may also charge you for endangering the welfare of a child. Depending on the level of harm the child experienced, you could be convicted of a second or third-degree crime. This conviction carries fines of up to $150,000 and a maximum jail time of 10 years.
These penalties can combine with those that come with a DWI conviction. So, you can expect to pay heavier fines and serve longer prison sentences.
The severe punishments for driving drunk with a minor passenger are there to teach a lesson: No one, especially parents, should be drinking and driving. Even if your drunk driving didn’t directly harm your child, the high possibility of a crash incriminates you. Prosecutors might also try to portray you as a terrible parent in court, and your chances of contesting the charges could shrink. Consider consulting a legal professional to learn your defense options for all the charges.