People who find themselves involved in a DUI incident, even though they are a passenger and not the driver of the vehicle, may face potential consequences that can include being detained at the scene, being interrogated, facing a court date, even being arrested.
As it stands now, DUI laws in many areas of the United States do not inflict penalties on passengers involved in DUIs and only penalize the driver. In recent years, many states have begun pushing to impose DUI penalties on passengers as well in an effort to reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents and fatalities, both of which are especially high among teenager drivers and passengers.
Despite the lack of penalties imposed on passengers in DUIs for simply being passengers, there are instances when a DUI passenger may face potential consequences. Depending on the situation, the state where the DUI occurred, incriminating information discovered in a background check and suspicious activity at the crime scene, a DUI passenger may be detained and questioned.
At a DUI scene, the attending officer typically asks the suspected DUI driver for identification, license and registration, performs a blood alcohol test, does a background check on the driver and also checks to ensure that the vehicle has not been stolen. The officer may also inspect the vehicle for suspected drugs, alcohol, illegal firearms and contraband.
In some instances, the officer at a DUI scene may have reason to suspect that the apparent driver was not actually driving the vehicle and that a passenger was. Although infrequent, this switch does happen and for a variety of reasons. The actual driver does not have a valid driver’s license and the passenger does. The driver has been drinking or doing drugs and wants to avoid arrest. The driver may have outstanding warrants and traffic violations. If the officer has suspicions, he or she may decide to detain the passenger for further questioning.
Even if the officer is satisfied that the apparent driver is the actual driver, he or she may have reason to suspect that other violations have occurred in the vehicle and ask for identification from all passengers. If background checks on the passengers turn up incriminating evidence, the DUI passengers may find themselves detained at the scene along with the driver.
An infrequent but additional consequence for a passenger involved in a DUI is when the passenger is actually the owner of the vehicle involved in the DUI and has allowed the intoxicated person to drive the vehicle. The owner/passenger may end up being liable in this instance and face some serious consequences along with the driver.
DUI passengers can refuse to provide identification to an officer but this has the potential for some serious consequences. An uncooperative passenger often becomes suspect and the officer may detain the passenger for suspicious activity and do a background check. If the background check shows outstanding warrants and other violations, the passenger may be detained. Even cooperative passengers may be detained, as many officers will still do a background check on the passenger with the identification provided. If incriminating information is found in their background, they may face further questioning and investigation as well.
Being a passenger in a DUI can lead to potential consequences even if the passenger has committed no crime or violation during the immediate DUI incident. If you find yourself in the position of being a DUI passenger and facing potential consequences, you are strongly advised to seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in DUI law. Also keep in mind that the laws and penalties for DUI passengers can vary significantly from state to state and that the laws are trending toward serious rather than lenient.