DUI and Vehicle Passengers

One of the most common questions we get asked as defense lawyers are whether one can get a DUI as a passenger if the car was being driven by an intoxicated person. In general, passengers cannot be charged with DUI. If you’re unaware of this, continue reading to learn how to guard against this unpleasant circumstance. The majority of people believe they are safe if they are not in the driver’s seat, but there are some situations in which passengers may face DUI charges.

In what cases can a passenger be charged with a DUI?

Just because you’re in a car with a drunk or drugged driver doesn’t mean you will be automatically charged with a DUI. It is the driver’s responsibility to operate a vehicle safely and soberly.

In California, there are a select few unusual circumstances in which a passenger could face a DUI accusation. Here are a few illustrations.

  1. An intoxicated passenger steers the wheel at any time during the drive

Intoxicated passengers are subject to a DUI arrest in California if they touch the steering wheel or otherwise take control of the car at any time during the ride. However, even if the driver is intoxicated, it is not considered drunk driving if a sober passenger drives the car.

  1. Switching seats

The new “passenger” may be charged with a DUI if the intoxicated driver switches seats with them before a police officer arrives at the scene. Additionally, both drivers and passengers may be charged with DUI if they switch seats with a drunk driver.

  1. The officer isn’t sure who was driving 

This kind of circumstance frequently arises when a car is either in an accident, was already parked when the law enforcement officer arrived or is on the side of the road. The officer would then need to establish who was driving at the alleged DUI scene. Believe it or not, it’s not that uncommon for police to make this error. That’s why it’s also important to know exactly what to do when you get stopped for a DUI.

When an officer doesn’t want to dispute with you at the side of the road, they may choose to cite a passenger for DUI. In court, they’d prefer to have you “explain it to the judge.”

Now it’s up to you to show that the DUI citation was unwarranted, and that’s a tough fight!

What can officers charge me for as a passenger?

You might not technically face a DUI arrest if you are a passenger. Depending on the circumstances at the time of the stop, the officer might have issued you a citation for a similar infraction like:

  • Public intoxication
  • Drug possession
  • Underage possession of alcohol
  • Possession of an open container of alcohol
  • Assault, if you fight the officer
  • Fleeing the scene, if you happen to leave instead of staying to give your report to the officer

What next if I’m charged with a DUI as a Passenger?

Remember that a charge does not equal a conviction. Any of the aforementioned situations could result in you being charged with a passenger DUI, but the evidence against you might not be strong enough to result in a conviction.

This is why it’s crucial to retain a California DUI attorney with knowledge of cases involving DUI allegations against passengers. A study of the facts in your case by your attorney may reveal how thin the evidence is against you.

You might be able to get your charges completely dropped or reduced, depending on the circumstances. The authorities can be persuaded by your attorney that you don’t merit the worst punishments.

Criminal Defense Heroes P.C., will handle your case effectively.

Aside from the DUI penalties you may get with a conviction, DUI charges are generally costly, which is why you need to contact an experienced attorney when you get the charges. If you have been charged with a DUI as a passenger in California, contact Criminal Defense Heroes P.C. today at (323) 529 3660 and schedule a free consultation to learn about your available legal options.

The DUI Attorney Don Hammond


Get Attorney Don Hammond's published book DUI Arrest,
Now What? A Primer for the Accused today for free.