DUI Liability for Passengers

DUI Liability for Passengers – Phoenix DUI Lawyers of Ariano Reppucci

In Arizona, it is possible to be obtain a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge without actually driving your vehicle. This is because under Arizona law if you are even in physical control of your vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.08 you could be violating driving statutes. A.R.S. § 28-1381(A)(1). This means you could have drunk alcohol or consumed another drug and dozed off in your car with the keys in the ignition and still potentially be charged with a DUI. In a multitude of events, if you are parked off on the side of the road and the police rap on your window to ask you to do a field sobriety test, you may be viewed as being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence. Whether you are liable depends largely on your personal situation (e.g. whether your engine was still running, whether you drove a distance under the influence and parked on the side of the road, etc.).

Some states have become even more creative in their interpretation of DUI laws by charging the passenger of a car with responsibility for the driver’s actions.1 In these states a passenger may be held liable as an accomplice to the drunk driver because he or she did not stop the behavior or even aided or abetted the behavior.2

What kind of behavior brings about accomplice liability?

Under American law, accomplice liability could be inferred in a situation where a person promotes or facilitates a crime.3 In some states, passengers have been held as accomplices to DUI charges because he drove since he was less intoxicated than a friend.4

Most cases that concern accomplice liability usually involve a passenger aiding and abetting some kind of crime such as vehicular homicide or DUIs.5 In fact, in some state law you do not need to be a passenger at all to be held liable as an accomplice. In Guzman v. State the defendant was found guilty of letting a 14 year old drive his brother and a friend after he gave them both beers.6 The defendant was guilty because he set a chain reaction that led to vehicular homicide because he knowingly gave an intoxicated minor the keys to a car.7

What should I do to avoid being liable as an accomplice in a DUI case?

It is best to avoid a situation where drunk driving is at all a possibility. While a court in Colorado ruled that a person cannot be held liable as an accomplice for a strict liability crime like DUI and vehicular assault, it is best not to even get in the situation where your state of mind would be an issue for the court.8 The best way to avoid the chance of accomplice liability is to ensure that you are not involved in a drunk driving situation at all. If you are in a situation where someone is thinking of driving or controlling a vehicle while intoxicated, make sure to do your best to talk them out of it or call them a taxi cab.


[1] Kimberly Hood, New DUI Laws Interpreted, web.utk.edu, http://web.utk.edu/~khood3/jem222/stories/DUILaws (last visited Sep. 29, 2014).

2 Lawrence Taylor, Can You Be An Accomplice to a DUI?, azduiatty.com, http://www.azduiatty.com/can-you-be-an-accomplice-to-dui.htm (last visited Sep. 29, 2014).

3 State v. Stratton, 591 A.2d 246 (Me. 1991).

4 Id.

5 Lawrence Taylor & Steve Oberman, § 1.09 INCHOATE AND ACCOMPLICE LIABILITY, DDDEF § 1.09 (citing Eager v. State, 325 S.W.2d 815, 821 (Tenn. 1959)).

6 Guzman v. State, 586 S.E.2d 59 (Ga. Ct. App. 2003).

7 Id.

8 Lawrence Taylor et. seq., supra note 2 (citing People v. Childress, ___ P.3d. ___, No. 08CA2329, at 3 (Colo. Ct. App. 2012)).