Can I Be Charged as the Passenger in a DUI Arrest?

It’s a frightening and unfamiliar scenario: You and your friend have been pulled over – only you’re not the driver, you’re the passenger. Could you be in trouble, too? For DUI arrests, the answer is contingent on several variables that could have a lasting impact on your future. You, too, could be facing criminal charges.

It likely goes without saying, but you should avoid getting in a car with a drunk driver. If you find yourself in this situation, you face a double-edged sword: If you’re sober, the police officer will ask why you didn’t insist on taking the wheel from an intoxicated driver; but if you’re intoxicated as well, you could face other penalties.

If you cannot provide a convincing defense for why you weren’t driving if you were a sober passenger, you could be arrested on the charge of reckless endangerment, because the officer will say you put yourself, the driver, and other drivers and member of the general public in danger by allowing your friend to drive while intoxicated.

For those passengers who find themselves in the car with an intoxicated driver, there are not many convincing defenses for why you would not take the keys yourself. You may need to prove that you’re not licensed to drive, you don’t know how to drive, or you have some legal or medical restriction preventing you from driving at certain times of the day or that you may drive only in particular situations, such as to and from work.

Passengers who are also drunk at the scene of a DUI arrest face a different set of consequences for failing a field sobriety test. This may lead the arresting officer to ask you to call a sober designated driver or a taxi or ride app to pick you up and drive you home from the scene of the arrest, and if you can’t get in touch with a suitable driver, you could be arrested for public intoxication and booked into jail for the night. These charges are often reduced or dropped in court, but you will still face a thoroughly inconvenient ordeal.

Another thing to consider is that if there is open alcohol in the car, the passenger can be charged with other crimes, and enhanced charges if the passenger is a minor. If there are drugs present, the passengers will also likely face charges for drug possession if the police cannot determine who purchased the drugs.

Contact us at O'Brien & Eggleston PLLC if you’ve been criminally charged as the passenger in a DUI arrest. Complete an online form or dial (518) 240-9992 to arrange a FREE consultation.