Like all other states in the U.S., California has laws criminalizing driving while under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances or inhalants and chemicals. Some states provide that it is a punishable offense under their laws to sit in the driver’s seat while intoxicated when the keys are in the ignition even if the person is not driving.
Intoxication is measured by several things, including the person’s blood alcohol concentration. If the person’s BAC is higher than the amount set as the limit under the law, the person may be charged with a DUI. When a person is charged with driving under the influence, getting the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer may make the difference in the outcome of his or her case. While many things may lead to driving under the influence charges, passengers should not be charged for the action even if they are intoxicated. This is true in California and elsewhere.
California law does not allow law enforcement officers to charge passengers with driving under the influence. In order to be charged, a person must have actual physical control of the vehicle at the time of the offense. A driver is defined in the California Vehicle Code as one who is operating the vehicle or who has actual physical control over it.
Before the California Supreme Court’s decision in 1991 in Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles, confusion existed about what constituted the act of driving. In that case, the Supreme Court indicated that in order to be charged with driving under the influence, the person must be actually making the vehicle move at the time. This means that a person simply sitting behind the wheel of a car that is not moving cannot be charged with a driving under the influence offense in the state.
Intoxicated passengers normally should never face DUI charges in California. The only exception to this might be if the prosecutor is able to prove that you had actual physical control of the vehicle. For example, if you drove but switched seats and the officer saw you do so, you could be charged. You might also be charged if you reached over and seized the wheel from the driver, causing the car to swerve or to have an accident.
As a passenger, you should not have been charged with driving under the influence regardless of how intoxicated you might have been. If the police who stopped the vehicle in which you were the passenger believed you changed seats, you may still be facing charges. It is very important that you get help from an experienced attorney like Scott D. Henry. We are Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange County’s Leading DUI Defense Law Firm and are ready to help fight against the allegations in your case.
You may lose your driver’s license with the Department of Motor Vehicles if you do not act quickly. From the time you were charged and arrested, you only have 10 days to request an administrative hearing about your driving privileges. Attorney Scott D. Henry can help with requesting your hearing and litigating on your behalf. He can also fight to have the criminal charges against you dismissed if you were simply the passenger in the vehicle. Call us today to speak with an attorney about what happened in your matter.