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California Passenger DUI: Rare, But Possible (2024 Update)

A passenger can get a DUI in California if they are found to be intoxicated and in control of the vehicle. State law prohibits individuals from being in “actual physical control” of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This means that even if you are not driving, if you are deemed to be in control of the vehicle (such as sitting in the driver’s seat with the keys), you can be charged with a DUI.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

In What Situations Can a Passenger Get a DUI in California?

According to SCLG, in California, the general rule is that an intoxicated passenger cannot be charged with DUI. However, there are exceptions where a passenger might face DUI charges, such as when they assist in steering the vehicle, switch seats with the driver, or if the arresting officer is uncertain about who was driving [1].

Additionally, passengers can still be charged with other alcohol or drug-related offenses if the vehicle is pulled over for suspicion of DUI, including:

  • Underage drinking – If a passenger under 21 is intoxicated, they may face charges for underage drinking, which can lead to a maximum $250 fine, driver’s license suspension for up to one year, and up to 32 hours of community service.
  • Minor in possession of alcohol – An underage passenger in possession of alcohol in any public place could be charged with a misdemeanor, facing the same penalties as underage drinking.
  • Public intoxication – Intoxicated passengers might be charged with public drunkenness, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum 12-month jail sentence and a fine of up to $1,000 upon conviction.
  • Drug possession – If a passenger possesses illegal drugs, they could face drug possession charges, a misdemeanor that may result in a maximum one-year jail term and a fine not exceeding $1,000.

Passenger’s Role in a DUI Investigation

During a DUI investigation, a passenger in a vehicle might be questioned about the driver, especially if there was a collision. The passenger could be asked about the driver’s history of drinking and driving, and they may later be called as a witness if the case goes to trial.

In certain situations, a passenger’s presence could complicate a DUI investigation. For example, an officer might claim to smell alcohol or marijuana, but these odors could be attributed to the passenger rather than the driver. In such cases, the defense could argue that there was insufficient reasonable cause to arrest the driver based on these observations.

What’s Next if I am Charged With a DUI as Passenger?

It’s important to note that being charged with a passenger DUI does not automatically lead to a conviction. While many of the situations mentioned earlier could result in charges, the evidence may not always be strong enough for a conviction.

That’s why it’s essential to hire a California DUI attorney who understands cases involving DUI allegations against passengers. Your attorney can thoroughly review the facts of your case to determine the strength of the evidence against you.

Also Read: Can You Drive After Smoking Weed in California?

How a Lawyer Can Help You Avoid a DUI Passenger Conviction

If you face a DUI-related charge as a passenger, an attorney can employ several strategies to potentially reduce or dismiss your charges.

Here are key steps an experienced lawyer can take to pursue the best possible outcome:

  • Challenge the legality of the traffic stop
  • Analyze field sobriety test results and challenge their accuracy
  • Challenge blood test results
  • Build a strong defense case on your behalf
  • Negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors
  • Interview witnesses and use their testimony to strengthen your case
  • Represent you in court and other legal proceedings
  • Provide compassionate and effective legal counsel throughout your case

California Drunk Driving Statistics

According to LOPJ, drunk driving has serious consequences, impacting victims and their families for life. Drunk driving statistics from and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reveal the devastating effects of DUI accidents in California [2]:

  • California saw 1,069 fatalities from drunk driving crashes in a recent year, accounting for over 10 percent of the nationwide total.
  • Alcohol-impaired driving accidents made up 30 percent of all traffic fatalities in California in a recent year.
  • Among drivers under 21, California had 113 drunk driving fatalities, representing over 11 percent of the nationwide total and 28.8 percent of all fatalities in this age group in the state that year.
  • In one recent year, California had 2.7 fatalities per 100,000 residents due to alcohol-related traffic crashes.
  • For accidents involving drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) over 0.15, the fatality rate was 69.8 percent. Additionally, 77.9 percent of drivers with a BAC over 0.15 involved in fatal DUI crashes were repeat offenders.

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If you feel affected by any of these matters, contact our criminal defense attorney today.

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The Litigation Group at Schmidt & Clark, LLP is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focuses on the representation of plaintiffs in lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new legal challenges in all 50 states.

If you or a loved one was involved with these matters, you should contact our law firm immediately for a free case evaluation. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a suit and we can help.



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