After an afternoon movie with friends, you all decide to stop at your favorite bistro and get a drink to catch up and talk. After a few glasses of wine, everyone piles in the car to go back to your house and keep the party going. You all feel fine to drive, so it doesn’t matter who’s behind the wheel, right?
Just your luck, you’re only a few minutes away from your house when the police pull you over. The atmosphere in the car is decidedly less festive now because it is unclear how this situation will play out. The Franklin DUI attorneys at The Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates discuss this situation in today’s blog.
What is driving under the influence (DUI)?
A driver who is intoxicated behind the wheel is at risk of being pulled over and charged with a DUI. A DUI (driving under the influence) is a charge where a driver is operating a motor vehicle while impaired. It is illegal in all states to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher.
Many states define driving under the influence as driving a motor vehicle on a road or highway while under the influence of alcohol. When a driver is pulled over for a DUI, it means a police officer has observed them driving erratically or recklessly and feels there is probable cause to check for driving under the influence.
What are the elements that qualify a DUI charge?
The “driving” element of a DUI is different for each state. For example, some states consider “operating a vehicle” as being in physical control of the vehicle. Some states consider “operating a vehicle” as simply turning on the ignition, regardless of whether the driver moves the vehicle or not, and Tennessee is one of them.
Under Tennessee Motor Vehicle Code, it is unlawful to be under the influence while “in physical control” of any vehicle, which means you could be charged with DUI even if you are in a parked car. The courts typically take four elements into consideration:
- The location of the vehicle
- The location of the driver
- The location of the car keys in the vehicle
- The operability of the vehicle
For the “under the influence” element, there are three types of evidence that police officers and law enforcement officials will use: field evidence, driver evidence, and blood-alcohol evidence.
Open container laws and DUIs in Tennessee
Part of the driver’s evidence that police officers can use against you, the driver, are any open containers of alcohol inside your vehicle. Many states enforce open container laws, which prohibit the possession of open alcoholic drinks in vehicles for both drivers and passengers.
Open container laws include any alcoholic beverages that come in cans, flasks, bottles, and other special containers that hold alcohol. In the state of Tennessee, for example, drivers are prohibited from consuming any alcoholic beverages or possessing an open container with an alcoholic beverage while operating a motor vehicle.
What if the driver and passenger(s) in the vehicle were drinking?
If you are a passenger in the vehicle with a drunk driver, and you are drunk as well, you can be held criminally liable for the actions of the drunk driver if you own the vehicle. This means that you as the passenger can also be found guilty of a DUI charge in Tennessee. This offense is known as DUI by consent. Under this charge, the owner or passenger in a vehicle can be charged with a DUI charge and held liable for the drunk driver’s actions. This means that you can be held liable for any of the drunk driver’s irresponsible actions, all the way up to vehicular manslaughter.
What are the penalties of a DUI for driver and passenger?
If you as the passenger are found guilty of DUI by consent, you could face the same penalties as a DUI charge. Some of the penalties include a mandatory 48-hour hold in jail, a suspended sentence of 11 months and 29 days, a supervised probation period of 11 months and 29 days, a $350 fine in addition to court costs, and 24 hours of community service.
You can also face additional penalties of losing your license for one year, and mandatory attendance at alcohol safety school. These penalties are dependent upon whether this is your first offense. If you have been repeatedly arrested for DUI, you could be subject to harsher punishment.
If you were in the vehicle with a drunk driver and find yourself facing a DUI by consent charge, you have options. Consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to protect your best interests.
Do passengers have to take breath tests or field sobriety tests?
If the drunk driver is pulled over by a police officer and is suspected of drunk driving, the police officer could request that he or she perform a field sobriety test to determine they are under the influence. The police officer can also request that you, the passenger, perform the field sobriety test or a roadside breath test to see if you are capable of driving the car home. Whether you are a passenger or a driver, you always have the right to refuse these tests. If you, your driver, or both of you fail the sobriety test, however, both of you may be taken in for a breathalyzer test, and could face DUI charges.
The good news for passengers is this: since you weren’t the one pulled over for suspicion of DUI, you should have a very strong case for beating the charges. Furthermore, you may be able to avoid the automatic loss of license that comes with refusing a breath test. We would have to look ay the details of your case to determine what is possible.
What happens to the car if the driver and passenger are arrested for DUI charges?
It depends. If the passenger is sober, he or she may be allowed to drive the car home. If both parties are under the influence, the car will be left on the side of the road until someone can pick it up, or it will be impounded. This will not only lead to additional fees, but to additional time in retrieving the vehicle.
Clients throughout Franklin, Brentwood, and Columbia rely on The Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates to protect their rights in criminal defense cases. They know we do everything we can to aggressively pursue justice on their behalf. We can do the same for you. Call us today at 615-977-9370, or submit a contact form to schedule your initial consultation.