Whether you’re out celebrating with friends or just heading out to for a drink, being the passenger in a car with a drunk driver can pose significant risks to you. Not only is there the risk of the driver causing an accident, but if your friend is pulled over on suspicion of DUI, the ride can have legal consequences for you, too.

The Potential Consequences for a DUI Passenger (PC 647(f))

While you cannot be charged with DUI if you were a passenger, there are several charges you could face related to a DUI stop. For example, if the police find you in possession of an open container of alcohol, you could be cited under California Vehicle Code Sections 23221 and 23222(a). You could face a suspension of your driver’s license if you violate California open container laws.

Another situation could involve the police officer suspecting illegal drugs being present. In this case, the officer may search the vehicle and the passengers. However, in order to search you as a passenger, the officer must have probable cause to suspect that you have committed a crime. Officers cannot legally search you merely because you were in the vehicle with a driver who is suspected of DUI.

It is possible that the officer may investigate you for being drunk in public. Roads are considered public places, and the courts have previously held that a parked automobile does not insulate a person from charges of public drunkenness under California Penal Code Section 647(f).1

Such a charge can be difficult for the prosecution to prove. That is because prosecutors must prove all of the following elements:

  • You were willfully under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a controlled substance;
  • You were in a public place while you were under the influence, AND
  • You were unable to exercise care for your own or others’ safety; or you were interfering with, obstructing, or preventing the free use of a street, sidewalk, or other public path

In a situation where you are the passenger in a vehicle (even with a driver who was under the influence), these elements can be difficult to prove.

You Have Rights

Even though you were not in the driver’s seat during a DUI traffic stop, it does not mean you cannot exercise your constitutional rights. You still have the right to remain silent, the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, and the right to leave if you are not under arrest. Remain calm and politely ask if you are free to leave. If you are arrested, you have the right to have an attorney present, and you should exercise this right before speaking to law enforcement.

Contact Wallin & Klarich for Help from an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

Crimes involving the passenger of a vehicle involve very complex details. That is why you should contact an experienced attorney right away if you’ve been accused of a crime. Our criminal lawyers at Wallin & Klarich are here to help you. We have been successfully fighting for the rights of clients facing criminal charges for over 35 years. We use every available legal defense available and all of our skill and knowledge to help people in your situation receive the best possible outcome to their cases. Let us help you now.

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance, and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available near you no matter where you work or live.

Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

1. See People v. Belanger (1966) 243 Cal.App.2d 654, 657. href=”#ref1″>↩

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