Most people are unaware that each charge of child endangerment is considered a separate and distinct DUI charge for punishment purposes. Additionally, the state may charge that person with the separate crime of child endangerment. This charge does not merge with the underlying violation for the purposes of sentencing.
As a result, a person who gets his or her very first DUI while having two or more children in the car can become a habitual violator.
This unfortunately appears to be the case for Luis Marquez-Bernal, 30, of Acworth, who has been accused of Driving Under the Influence of alcohol with three children in his vehicle who weren't in car seats.
According to the Lt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, on Saturday afternoon, a deputy witnessed a woman holding an unrestrained child in the backseat of a vehicle traveling northbound on Bells Ferry Road near Eagle Drive.
Lt. Baker reported in an emailed statement that “the deputy pulled the vehicle over and when he approached the vehicle he observed two children, ages 7 and 4 sharing a seat belt in the back seat. Also in the back seat was an adult female sharing a seat belt with a 3 year old, whom she had been holding moments earlier.”
The driver, Marquez-Bernal, was arrested and charged with DUI, three counts of endangering a child, and three counts of child not in restraint and driving without a license. With 7 misdemeanor offenses pending, he is facing up to 7 years in jail and up to $7000 in fines.
Under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391(a)(I), a person who drives under the influence of drugs or alcohol while transporting in a motor vehicle a child under the age of 14 years is guilty of the separate offense of endangering a child by driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The offense of endangering a child by driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs shall not be merged with the offense of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs for the purposes of prosecution and sentencing. An offender who is convicted of a violation of this subsection shall be punished in accordance with the provisions of subsection (d) of Code Section 16-12-1, relating to the offense of contributing to the delinquency, unruliness, or deprivation of a child.
MADD's website reports that in 2012, 20 percent of the children age 14 and younger who were killed in motor vehicle crashes were killed in alcohol-impaired crashes.
According to MADD, a child in a vehicle with a driver under the influence is not only at risk from the impaired driver, but also from the lack of safety restraint use (such as a seat belt or child safety seat), as drunk drivers are much less likely to make sure a child is properly restrained. Specifically, in fatal crashes, sober drivers had restrained their children 30.5 percent of the time, compared with only 18 percent for impaired drivers.
If you have been charged with DUI in Cherokee County GA, call Cherokee County DUI Attorney Richard Lawson. Put his experience as a former DUI prosecutor to work for you. He is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Act now, because you only have 10 days to save your driving privilege.