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Can a passenger be charged with drunk driving?

Drunk driving is of course a common charge that can happen to almost anyone. But there are also uncommon variations that can occur. One of these is the types of motor vehicles to which a state's DUI or DWI law applies. Depending on how a state's law is worded, drunk driving law can apply to other types of vehicles besides cars, trucks and motorcycles. It can also include such vehicles as lawn mowers or golf carts.

Connecticut and other states determine these definitions of drunk driving for themselves. It is a matter of state law. To be sure, there are federal crimes, but drunk driving is not one of them.

An example of a peculiar type of driving under the influence charge occurred recently in Virginia. Authorities there charged a passenger with DUI after a single-car accident. According to the charges, a 23-year-old passenger who was riding in the back seat reached in front and grabbed the steering wheel.

A prosecutor handling the case admitted that is an unusual one. But he asserted that the charges were within the law. As he sees it, if someone is intoxicated and takes control of the wheel, that action qualifies as DUI - even if the control was fleeting.

In Virginia, at least, there is precedent for such a charge. Ten years ago, an appeals court there upheld a drunk driving conviction against an intoxicated passenger who grabbed the wheel and caused a crash.

In the current case, the 23-year-old passenger also faces charges for driving on a suspended license. The young woman's license was suspended in November 2011 after a first-offense DUI conviction.

Source: "Back-seat passenger charged with DUI in Bedford County," The Roanoke Times, Neil Harvey, 2-20-13

Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post in Connecticut. To learn more about our practice, please visit our drunk driving defense page.

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