Under California law, only the driver of a vehicle can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI). However, there are circumstances where passengers can be charged with offenses during a DUI incident as well, such as:
- Switched places – This involves a passenger switching places with the driver following an accident. The police can often figure this out after taking witness statements, examining injuries, and checking the positions of the seats in the vehicle. It’s usually a situation where the driver had been drinking but the passenger hadn’t, so the passenger tries to take the place of the driver to help the driver avoid a DUI charge. If the switch is discovered, it can result in big trouble for both the driver and passenger.
- Grabbed the wheel – This situation is rare. An example of how this could happen is if a passenger who had been drinking reached over from one of the passenger seats and took control of the steering wheel. While the passenger had control of the wheel, they could be considered the driver, which means if the vehicle was involved in an accident or traffic stop during that time, they might be the one charged with DUI instead of the person sitting in the driver's seat.
In addition to the reasons listed above, vehicle passengers can be charged with other crimes during a DUI stop or accident, such as drug offenses or violating open container laws.
Can Passengers Drink Alcohol in a Car?
Passengers are not allowed to drink alcohol while in a moving vehicle. In addition to alcohol, passengers cannot smoke marijuana or ingest marijuana-based products while being driven in a motor vehicle (this also applies to other legal and illegal drugs). In fact, even having an open container of alcohol or marijuana while in a motor vehicle is illegal in many instances. An open container of alcohol or marijuana is defined as any of the following:
- A container that has a broken seal
- A container that has had some of its contents removed
- A container that is missing its cap or lid
- A container that has been torn or broken open
In many cases, even if the vehicle is parked, open container laws apply. Also, there is an exemption to the open container law that allows open containers of marijuana in a vehicle’s trunk. However, that exemption only applies to marijuana, not alcohol.
Can a Passenger Be Held Liable for Letting a Friend Drive Drunk?
Yes, in some situations, a passenger may be held responsible for allowing a friend to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is more likely to apply if the passenger owns the motor vehicle that is involved in the incident, but that’s not a requirement. Whether or not the passenger owns the car, these types of cases are generally very complex and difficult to prove, and they often only apply in certain states.
What Happens When You Get a DUI?
It’s no secret that getting a DUI can be devastating. The penalties for a DUI conviction can be harsh, including:
- First Offense – A first DUI can result in losing your driver’s license for up to 10 months, as much as $1,000 in fines, 6 months in jail, and 3-5 years informal probation.
- Second Offense – After a second DUI, penalties worsen. They can include up to a year in county jail, a 2-year license suspension, a requirement to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle and keep it there for the first 12 months after you get your license reinstated, and up to $1,000 in fines.
Bottom line, if you’ve been charged in a DUI-related accident, or you’re a passenger who is facing charges related to a DUI incident, the stakes are high. You need to talk to an experienced defense attorney right away. As we’ve laid out above, a conviction for one of these offenses can ruin your life immediately and for years to come. You need someone on your side who knows the law, deals with these kinds of issues every day, has a track record of success, and who will fight for you like your life depends on it, because more than likely, it will.
Facing a DUI Charge? Our Attorney Is Ready to Help You Today!
At the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed, we have been fighting for the rights and freedoms of our clients for over a decade. We have resolved thousands of cases. We understand what it takes to handle DUI defense cases the right way. It involves intense research and investigation, as well as the ability to solve problems quickly and creatively. As our client testimonials prove, we know what we’re doing and always have our clients’ best interests at heart.
To learn more about our firm or to discuss your situation with us, give us a call at (510) 907-6600 or fill out our online contact form. We offer consultations, and flexible payment plans. Se habla español!