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Can a Passenger Be Charged with a DUI in California?


In California, a passenger cannot be arrested for a DUI that is operated by an impaired driver. However, there are a few exceptions to this law, which can result in a passenger being arrested for drunk driving or another crime. 

Steering the Vehicle 

According to California law, if an intoxicated passenger touches the steering wheel or otherwise gains control over the vehicle at any point of the ride, then the passenger can be charged with a DUI. However, if a sober passenger steers the vehicle, such action is not considered drunk driving – even if the driver is impaired. 

Switching Seats with an Intoxicated Driver 

If an intoxicated driver switches seats with a passenger before a police officer reaches the vehicle, the new “passenger” can be charged with a DUI. Additionally, if an impaired passenger switches seats with a more intoxicated driver, then both parties can face DUI charges. 

The Officer is Not Sure Who was Driving 

It is not uncommon for an officer to mistakenly charge a passenger with DUI if he/she does not know who was driving the vehicle. This situation can occur after a car accident since all the parties involved in the crash have exited their vehicles prior to the police’s arrival. 

The Passenger Commits Another Crime 

If the police pull someone over for suspicion of driving under the influence, the following investigation can uncover other potential criminal charges committed by the driver and/or passengers. Common crimes that a passenger may face include drug possession, public intoxication, underage drinking, or a minor in possession of alcohol. 

If you have been arrested for a DUI in Santa Barbara, call Appel & Morse at (805) 467-6060 or fill out our online contact form today to request a free case evaluation. Our legal team consists of former prosecutors with more than 40 years of collective experience! 

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