Drinking in front of a minor, under most state laws, is typically not a crime. However, if drinking by a parent or guardian results in child endangerment (which can include neglect, injury and serious harm), there are serious legal consequences that can be involved. The type of penalty associated with child endangerment stemming from drinking in front of a minor depend on the individual situation.
Child Endangerment Background
Any threat to a child's life or health by the indifference or irresponsibility of an adult is considered child endangerment (a criminal offense). The parent does not need to be the one accused of child endangerment; any adult given the responsibility to care for a child at the time of the offense can be accused. This can include teachers, babysitters, guardians and family members. The purpose of the child endangerment laws is to protect children from situations in which they may be harmed or even bear witness to illegal and/or adult activities.
DUI and Child Endangerment
If a parent or adult responsible for the care of a child operates a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol above the legal blood-alcohol content levels set by the state, with a minor present, child endangerment penalties will be enforced. The parent or guardian will receive penalties for not only drinking under the influence but child endangerment penalties as well, which can often increase the overall judgment.
Alcohol and Child Endangerment
Drinking and driving with a minor in the vehicle is not the only instance in which child endangerment can take place. Negligence due to the consumption of alcohol can also lead to child endangerment. For instance, in a case in Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, a grandmother was charged with being drunk and letting her grandson wander out of the house and into the streets for more than two hours before police brought the child home. Anytime injury or harm is caused to a child because of alcohol consumption, it is considered child endangerment.
Typically, child endangerment is a misdemeanor offense but can be escalated to a felony if alcohol is involved. Fines ranging from $1,000 up to $10,000, as well as prison sentences of six to 20 years, can be given to adults charged with child endangerment. If the adult has also been charged with a DUI, which typically carries a fine of $500 or more plus prison time, the charges will be combined. In the case of the Bensalem grandmother, she was charged with child endangerment (endangering the welfare of a child), carrying a first-degree misdemeanor punishment; and reckless endangerment, a second-degree misdemeanor.