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Vehicle passengers and the potential for DUI charges

Many of you probably read today's post title and asked yourself, "Is it even possible in Virginia for a passenger in a vehicle to receive a DUI during a traffic stop?" If you asked this question, you likely weren't alone and that's understandable. Our state has some of the strictest DUI laws in the country, making them a major concern for residents who'd rather avoid entanglements with the law if they can help it.

But is it possible? The answer depends on the situation, of course. As you probably already know, in order to be accused of driving while intoxicated in Virginia, a person over the age of 21 must:

  • Have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or higher
  • Be driving or operating a motor vehicle at the time of the stop

It's this second bullet point that can create a legal sticking point for intoxicated passengers in our state. Consider for a moment an instance in which a drunken passenger grabs the wheel of a moving vehicle as a joke. If a police officer sees this, he or she may pull the driver over and request an explanation of the situation. If it's discovered that the passenger exerted control over the vehicle, a DUI may be given to the passenger.

Throughout the country, including here in Virginia, the terms "operating a motor vehicle" and "exerting physical control over a vehicle" have become sources of contention in many drunk driving cases, particularly those involving passengers who have been charged with a DUI as well as drivers who have been charged while sitting in a non-moving vehicle. It's an issue you too may face at some point in your life. If you do, remember that you have the right to a lawyer and that you should exert this right immediately following an arrest.

Source:  Virginia Decoded, "Code § 18.2-266," Accessed March 15, 2016


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