When an intoxicated driver gets pulled over, they are likely in serious trouble. What many passengers don't know is that they could also be in trouble if the police decides to prosecute them. How is this possible?
They Can Be Charged With Reckless Endangerment
During a DUI arrest, the passenger's blood alcohol level will be assessed to see if they were drinking. If not, the officer will ask them why they weren't driving for the person who was intoxicated. This is a sticky situation because the passenger can actually be arrested and charged with reckless endangerment for not taking the wheel for their drunken friend or family member.
The idea here is that the sober person put themselves, the driver, and others on the road at a dangerous risk by not taking the wheel. This is especially true if there are other passengers in the vehicle who couldn't drive, such as children or other intoxicated people. Acceptable reasons for not driving include a lack of a license, an inability to drive, medical conditions, or legal restrictions on driving.
Penalties Can Be Huge
Those who face a reckless endangerment charge could face serious fines. This is even true if they weren't the person who was driving: allowing the driver to get behind the wheel drunk often makes them just as liable for any problems that could have occurred as a result.
The penalties in these types of cases include potential jail time of up to one year, fines that could be as high as several thousands of dollars, probation, and even a license suspension. Getting a good defense in a case like this is necessary as it can really be costly for someone who didn't even realize they were breaking the law.
Defending Against it Is Tough
Passengers in a DUI case who are facing reckless endangerment charges have a tough road to travel for their defense. The only way to really defend against these claims is to argue that the person was unaware that their behavior or conduct put the other person's life at risk. For example, they could argue that they didn't know the person behind the wheel was drunk or intoxicated.
It's easy to see how difficult this will be in a DUI case. A person driving behind the wheel who is clearly intoxicated is going to be hard to ignore. Without a really good explanation for their lack of careful behavior, the person who wasn't driving can be in nearly as much trouble as the person who was, even if they weren't drunk.
A good defense in this type of case requires talking to a DWI attorney and getting their advice. They can help create a better defense or at least argue the charges down to something less severe. This is particularly true if they could argue the person being charged was scared or intimidated by the person behind the wheel and felt they could not drive for them.