Many people pulled over for drunk driving aren’t alone in the car. While most people aren’t surprised to learn that a driver can face additional charges if the passengers are minors, they are often surprised to discover that adult passengers of a drunk driver can sometimes complicate DUI arrest investigations and may even be charged with crimes themselves.
Investigating the Passengers in a DUI
The first complication that occurs with people riding in the car during a drunk driving traffic stop is that police often need to verify that they did not switch seats with the person behind the wheel at the time of the stop. The officer may be suspicious if he noticed the driver was driving particularly erratically but upon pulling the vehicle over, he notices a very drunk passenger and a totally sober driver. This could also happen if there is a late night crash that seems to have been caused by bad driving and the driver is sober with a drunk passenger beside her. This may also be the case if the passenger is an intoxicated minor (or someone on probation) and the person currently behind the wheel is a parent or close friend who may not want their child or friend to get in trouble for drinking and driving.
In cases where this is questionable, the police officer will review dash cam footage to ensure if the driver and passenger switched seats as he left his vehicle. He may also look at the position of the vehicle’s seats to see if they are position correctly for the heights of the people sitting in them.
In some rare cases, the officer may determine that the drunk passenger reached over and took control of the steering wheel, which is still against the law, even if that person is not actually in the driver’s seat. In these cases, the passenger can still be charged with drunk driving.
The Passenger Can be a Critical Source of Evidence
Even if there’s no question about who was driving, a passenger may be asked questions to obtain extra information about the driver’s behavior. While it’s best to refuse to answer any questions without an attorney present, many passengers willingly offer this information without a second thought.
A passenger may further complicate a driving under the influence case if no alcohol is detected, but the passenger has drugs or alcohol on her which could have been given to the driver. Alternatively, the passenger could strongly smell like drugs or alcohol, which might make the officer believe the driver was operating a vehicle under the influence.
On the other hand, failure to distinguish between the source of such an odor could bring into question the officer’s claim of reasonable suspicion in a DUI case, which could benefit the driver’s criminal defense.
What Happens to the Passengers?
Aside from the investigation, what happens to the other people in the car may vary. In some situations, if the passenger is sober, they may be allowed to drive the vehicle away. Otherwise, the vehicle will likely be towed and the passenger will have to find his own ride home, although in rare circumstances, the officer may be kind enough to give him a ride home.
Sometimes, the passenger themselves may be arrested. This could be the case if they had an open container of alcohol or had drugs on them. If a passenger is belligerent or interferes with the DUI investigation, they can also be arrested for resisting or delaying a police officer.
What to do When Facing Legal Trouble
If you are arrested for drunk driving, your first instinct may be to simply search Google for the nearest lawyer, but it’s a good idea to take your time to find the right DUI attorney for your needs.
Remember that if you are charged with a DUI, you only have 10 days to fight your driver’s license suspension, which is why you need to work quickly. While you may contact a few attorneys, only work with someone with the right experience and a proven track record to help you fight the charges and protect your license. Peter M. Liss accepts all major credit cards and offers free initial consultations. Call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule an appointment today.