Florida, we have some bad news. Our state has some of the most irresponsible drivers in the nation–we rank at #10, to be precise. As a result, Floridian car insurance is the most expensive.
One of the most tragic ways Floridian motorists can be so irresponsible is with a DUI. This threatens the lives of everyone on the road, with the best outcome being that they go to jail without causing harm. Penalties are naturally quite severe.
It begs the question: Can a passenger get a DUI, too?
Even if you are stone-cold sober and minding your own business, don’t assume you’re out of the woods. Keep reading as we discuss passenger laws and whether a passenger could be accountable.
Florida DUI Law
There’s no better way to get an answer than go to the source of Florida DUI law. The second line in the 2023 Florida Statutes makes it clear who can get a DUI. At a bare minimum, the person must meet the following two criteria:
- Be driving
- Be in physical control of the vehicle
The legal limit for BAC (blood alcohol content) for a driver is 0.08%. If they are at or above that level, then they’re going to the slammer.
That legal limit, as we have established, only applies to the driver. Right off the bat, it would appear you were in the clear, right? The passenger is absolved of the driver’s actions since they do not have control of the vehicle.
As with anything in this world, it’s never that simple.
Can a Passenger Get a DUI?
Generally speaking, if you are in the passenger seat only, you cannot get a DUI. However, this is where complexity can enter a DUI case.
Officers investigating a DUI incident will look for other charges to leverage in the process. Your friend driving might get a DUI in Florida, but you could very well go home with different charges. It’s critical that you know your rights before saying or doing the wrong thing.
Open Container Laws
Even if you don’t have a single drop of alcohol in your system, open container laws apply. This means that a container of alcohol in the vehicle has a broken seal. If that container is in your cup holder, or you’re holding it, you’ll likely get busted.
The officer may ask you to take a breathalyzer test to confirm you were drinking. Even if the container wasn’t nearby you, a breathalyzer test could suggest you were taking a sip or two. A small factor like this could lead you to become the victim of an open container penalty.
Some people cannot control themselves when under the influence. They are rude, aggressive, or say very stupid things to lawmen that get them in trouble. Their behavior may be such that they are a danger to the property of others or the public at large.
This is known as disorderly intoxication. It would get you in trouble whether or not you were in a vehicle. If the officer deems you a threat to others in your current condition, you could be spending the night in a cell.
Unlawful Possession of Alcohol
Another situation that could complicate the matter is having someone in the car who’s under the age of 21. With a drunk driver, the officer may suspect other drunk people in the vehicle, too. DUIs are a serious offense, so they will likely dig deeper by checking other passengers.
If you are under the age of 21–even as a passenger–this could end badly. You don’t even need an open container of alcohol for unlawful possession to apply. Reasonable evidence suggesting that you are in constructive or actual possession of a drink could lead to penalties.
Again, the officer may administer breathalyzer tests to more than just the driver. If you are under the age of 21 and have alcohol in your system, it could be a bad night.
Controlling the Vehicle
Remember how we said you had to be driving or “controlling” the vehicle? Turning the wheel counts, and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the driver’s seat.
If you lean over and grab the wheel to help a drunk driver, that counts as “controlling the vehicle.” It doesn’t matter if it was a quick correction or frequent little nudges here or there. Under the influence, you have committed a DUI.
Granted, this is a bit harder for an officer to prove. They would either need to see it or get a witness confession that someone was doing it. They may not even suspect as much unless a passenger blurted it out.
This is rare, but every officer has seen it at least once. Upon being pulled over, the drunk driver quickly switches seats with a sober passenger. A quick-and-dirty fix to get out of a life-changing DUI.
Of course, this could be hard to prove. The officer would need to have seen it with their eyes or on their dash cam. They may also become suspicious if they can’t tell the people apart once they exit the vehicle.
What Do You Do in a DUI Incident as a Passenger?
Assuming none of the above is true, you are likely in the clear. That said, you never know where law enforcement could take a case. Charges may only arise later, convicting you with something when you believed you were home free.
Whether or not you think you have broken the law, call DUI lawyers to help. Legal services have dealt with cases like this many, many times. They’ve seen all the different iterations a DUI case can take on–likely including your unique circumstance.
When it comes to driving under the influence, the judicial system does not mess around. Leniency is not common, nor are second chances. Get DUI attorneys on your side to secure the best outcome.
Hire A DUI Lawyer
Can a passenger get a DUI in Florida? In a slim selection of situations, such as switching seats or grabbing the wheel, yes. In the majority of cases, though, an officer may put you up for other, related charges instead.
RHINO Lawyers provides the best legal services in the Tampa area, period. Get your free case review now.
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