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Can an intoxicated passenger ever receive a DUI charge?

Imagine for a moment that you and your friend are just leaving a party. Over the course of the night, you both consumed a number of alcoholic beverages. You believe that you are too intoxicated to drive and pass on taking the driver's seat. Your friend on the other hand says that they are sober and agrees to drive you home.

On the way home though, you notice that the car is swerving and suspect that your friend is not as sober as they claimed earlier. Suddenly, you realize that you are about to crash into the vehicle in front of you so you grab the steering wheel to swerve out of the way. This raises an important question: could you face a DUI charge now even though you were a passenger in the car?

Though this may seem like a rare, made-up scenario, it's actually one that has played out in several states across the nation. Just as it would here in Florida, the scenario requires the courts to consider the particular language of state laws and whether they apply to an intoxicated passenger. So can an intoxicated passenger ever receive a DUI charge? Let's take a look at the law.

According to Florida statute, a person is considered to have committed the offense of driving under the influence if they are intoxicated and are found to have been driving or were in actual physical control of a vehicle. It could be argued in the scenario above that when you grabbed the wheel to avoid the accident, you exerted physical control over the vehicle. This means that it's possible, even though you were a passenger at the time, you could face a DUI charge.

Even though our laws may differ from other states, the definition of "driving" is similar in a number of states. Two cases from other states -- one in California and another from Kansas -- show a similar interpretation of the law and the legal problems it presents to intoxicated passengers, especially those that are believed to have exerted actual physical control over a vehicle.

Source: leg.state.fl.us, "Title XXIII, Chapter 316, Sec. 316.193, Driving under the influence; penalties," Accessed Oct. 22, 2014

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