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Can a Drunk Passenger Be Charged with DUI?

Can a Drunk Passenger Be Charged with DUI?

Posted By Parks & Braxton, PA || 18-Nov-2016

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.

Categories: DUI

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