As the name implies,
driving under the influence (DUI) is a crime that only a driver can commit. Drunk passengers cannot face
legal repercussions for taking a safe ride home with a sober driver, no
matter how intoxicated they may be. Right? While this is technically true
under Florida law, there are still certain situations where drunk “passengers”
can be arrested and charged with DUI.
Scenarios Where Non-Drivers Can Be Arrested for DUI
In some cases, the police will arrest a non-driver for driving under the
influence on the basis of perception and assumptions—rather than
hard evidence. In other words, if a police officer has reason to believe
that you intended to drive while intoxicated or that you had driven drunk
at some point during the day, they can still arrest you for DUI. Although
rare, this scenario can, and does, happen.
Example: You walk out of the bar and decide to sober up by taking a nap in your
car. It’s cold outside, so you turn on the engine and fire up the
heater. The police walk up to the window to check on you and see that
the keys are in the ignition. Although you were sleeping, and had no intention
of driving while under the influence, the police see that you are still
visibly intoxicated and arrest you for DUI.
Example: You walk out of a party and climb into the passenger seat of your car while
you wait for your friend to drive you home. When the police arrive, you
are the only one in the car. They detect the smell of alcohol on your
breath, so they ask you to take a
breathalyzer test. You blow over the legal limit. Although you had no intention of driving
yourself home, the police subsequently arrest you for DUI.
Example: Someone calls the police to report that they saw you driving under the
influence. They note that you were swerving and driving recklessly, so
they give the police your license plate number. An hour later, an officer
arrives at your house. When you answer the door, you are still intoxicated.
Although the officer did not witness the crime, they issue an arrest based
on the eyewitness report.
Example: You decide to push your car on the side of the road—either in the
direction of home or into an empty parking spot—while you are drunk.
The police stop to check on the situation and notice that you are intoxicated.
They make the assumption that, before they arrived, you had been driving
the car. They promptly arrest you for driving under the influence, although
they did not witness the crime.
Example: You are driving while intoxicated when you notice a police car behind you.
You pull off the freeway and into a nearby shopping center. Before the
police officer gets out of the car, you and another passenger quickly
switch places. Although you are sitting in the passenger seat when the
officer walks up to the car, they saw – or made the assumption –
that you had been the one driving.
Florida’s Open Container Laws Still Apply to Passengers
Although drunk passengers cannot technically be charged with DUI, they
can still be cited for an
open container violation if they bring an alcoholic beverage into the car. If they are drinking,
holding, or even sitting near an open container of alcohol, the police
can slap them with a citation. Any alcohol within a vehicle must be fully
sealed and stored in the trunk where no one can access it while the car
is in motion.
Have you been charged with an alcohol-related crime in South Florida?
Contact a Fort Lauderdale DUI lawyer at Parks & Braxton, PA today for a FREE consultation. We are available
24/7, including nights, weekends, and holidays, so please don't wait
to give us a call.