The short is answer is yes, a passenger can be charged with a DUI. There are several reasons a police officer may charge a passenger with a DUI:
- Uncertainty. The police may charge a passenger if they are not sure who was driving – so they charge everyone that was in the car. This uncertainty can arise if the police don’t see the car in motion but instead are called to a location after an accident has occurred. The police should investigate to determine who the driver was, but there can still be uncertainty. For example, if there’s an accident, the driver and passenger may both be sitting outside the car on the car – and both may be too drunk to respond.
- You tried to steady the wheel. Even if someone else was driving, a passenger could be charged if he or she reached over to try to steady the driving wheel, or physically caused the driver to lose control of the wheel such as by pushing the driving so he/she couldn’t steer.
- You switched places with the passenger. You were really the driver and the person in the driver’s seat is really the passenger.
- You were sober and the driver was drunk. If you are sober but let someone who was drinking get behind of the wheel, you could be charged with DUI yourself. You might also be charged with reckless endangerment if the driver then causes an accident which injuries anyone in the car, anyone in another vehicle, or a bystander.
Passengers who are intoxicated and under 21 could be charged with underage drinking, drug possession, open container laws, furnishing liquor to a minor, or other offenses that aren’t based on driving.
DUI charges and convictions in Tennessee
There are three essential parts of a DUI conviction, according the Tennessee DUI law:
- The first is that the person charged was the person driving the car or in control of the car or vehicle.
- The second is that the operator of the car was under the influence of any intoxicant such as alcohol or drugs that would impair the ability to drive safely. If the driver’s blood alcohol content is .08 or more, that high level can be used to prove intoxication.
- The third is that the police must show that the car was in motion on a public road or highway, or any “streets or alleys, or while on the premises of any shopping center, trailer park, or apartment house complex, or any other premises that is generally frequented by the public.”
A DUI conviction is different than being charged. A DUI charge means that the police suspects you were the actual driver. To prove a conviction, the police must have more than a suspicion. They must be able to testify that they saw your drive the car. Convictions results in jail time, fines, penalties, and other major problems.
At the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, we hold the prosecution to its legal duty to prove each part of the DUI charge beyond a reasonable doubt. When passengers are charged, there are often strong arguments we can make on the passenger’s behalf. There are often defenses to DUI charges even when the driver is charged with a DUI offense. For help with any DUI charge, call us at 615-977-9370 or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We have offices in Franklin, Columbia and Brentwood.