But I Only Drove Drunk Once!

Mother (M) and Father (F) are the parents of two children, Daughter (D) and Son (S).

In July of 2015, at about 2:30a.m., a California Highway patrol officer noticed a car being driven erratically on the freeway. The car also was speeding at 83 mph. The officer pulled the driver over, and observed D (age four years) and S (age seven months) sleeping in the car and improperly restrained in the back seat. He also smelled alcohol on the driver’s breath. The driver was M (age 21 years). F (age 24 years) was in the front passenger seat.

The officer gave M a field sobriety test, and she failed miserably. Her breathalyzer test presented at .14 percent – almost twice the legal limit in California. He arrested her for driving under the influence of alcohol and released the children to F.

The following week the officer contacted the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) of M’s arrest. DCFS investigated.

During the initial interview, M told DCFS that her alcohol drinking was a mistake. She was upset because a family member had recently died. She also said the children were not restrained because they had unbuckled the seat belts of their car seats. F told DCFS that he let M drive because she had less to drink than he did. By the end of the first interview, both M and F agreed to cooperate with DCFS to prevent the removal of their children.

DCFS continued to investigate after the initial interview. DCFS discovered that M and F had been involved in a domestic dispute where F had struck M twice with his fist. Both M and F had been drinking alcohol during the altercation.

After further investigation, DCFS filed its preliminary report with the juvenile dependency court stating, “… [M]...placed [D and S] in a detrimental and endangering situation by driving a vehicle in excess of eighty miles per hour, while under the influence of alcohol, while the children were passengers in the vehicle. [F]...failed to protect the children when [F] knew of the [M]’s alcohol intake and allowed [M] to drive the children while under the influence of alcohol…Such a detrimental and endangering situation established for the children by [M and F]’s failure to protect the children endanger the children’s physical health and safety and place the children at risk of serious physical harm, damage, danger, and failure to protect.” DCFS also reported that the children were not properly secured in age-appropriate child seats.

The juvenile court returned the children to M and F, but maintained jurisdiction over the children. DCFS continued to investigate the parents.

During DCFS’s continued investigation M and F continued to deny that M had been drunk. They also argued that they did not need DCFS intervention or the services of drug/alcohol counseling. M was also drug/alcohol tested three on separate occasions. All three tests were negative. F was tested twice for drug/alcohol levels; and his tests, too, were negative.

Regarding M’s drunk-driving arrest, she was later convicted of misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol; received three years’ probation, and was ordered to attend drug/alcohol prevention programs. M told DCFS that she had completed the programs as well as three parenting classes.

In a subsequent hearing, the court ordered DCFS to continue to monitoring M and F, and ordered M to take the DCFS drug and alcohol abuse counseling program.

At the final hearing, M’s lawyer requested the case be closed with full custody returned to M and F, because her drunk-driving incident was a “one off” and would not occur again. DCFS noted that M had not taken any of the DCFS counseling programs, and F had taken no programs, so the case should remain open. The court agreed with DCFS, and M appealed.

The Appellate Court agreed with the juvenile court: “We see the record quite differently. [M] and [F] not only seriously jeopardized the physical safety of their children on the night Mother drove while intoxicated, they continued to minimize the seriousness of the incident during the dependency proceedings and had not, at the time of the jurisdiction hearing, taken any significant steps to participate in educational programs concerning the problematic use of alcohol that gave rise to the substantial risk to the children’s safety. Thus, in our judgment, the juvenile court’s finding … is true [and] is supported by sufficient evidence.” In other words, because of the parents’ lack of participation to ensure the continued safety of their children, those children could still be in danger.

Categories: Child Custody
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