In certain other countries—Japan being one of them—any time there is an incident with a drunk driver, all passengers in the car are considered equally liable. As startling as this is, Japanese law states that every person in a vehicle should be equally sharing the responsibility of having a sober driver at the wheel. Those who are unfortunate enough to be caught riding with a drunk driver will face a penalty of $5,000, three years in jail and points on their license. While we may find this type of law overly harsh, the overall DUI arrest rate in Japan is down almost 50% since the law was implemented. So what are the laws in the United States regarding passengers riding with a person who is found to be over the legal limit?
Penalties against Passengers
The United States laws do not allow another’s actions to be held against anyone other than themselves, therefore it would be virtually impossible for a passenger to be held liable for riding in the car with a driver who has had too much to drink. Although it is certainly foolish and possibly irresponsible to climb into a car with a drunk driver, the passenger nevertheless has not broken any specific laws. There are only a couple of instances where the passenger riding in a car with a person who is over the legal BAC limit could get into trouble.
The first scenario would be when the police officer has a pretty strong suspicion that the passenger has switched places with the driver upon seeing the flashing lights of the police car. If the officer has any doubts as to who was actually driving the car, he can request identification from the passenger, running that information through the system in search of outstanding warrants or tickets. Should there be no other reason to hold the passenger, the officer may still bring them in for switching places with the drunk driver. In this instance, it might end up being the officer’s word against that of the driver/passenger, however judges will typically take the word of an officer first.
Additionally, if the police stopped the car due to suspicion of drunk driving, the passenger might be found to be in possession of an illegal substance or illegal weapon, then would face his or her own charges. By and large, however, riding in a car with a person who is subsequently pulled over for DUI does not result in penalties of any type for the passenger.
Your Rights as a Passenger
As the passenger in a vehicle which is stopped by a police officer when the driver is suspected of DUI, you have the right to refuse to provide identification to the officer. Be aware, however, that this refusal could annoy the officer enough that he might look for any reason to detain you. If you do provide ID to the officer, he will almost certainly run your name and license number through the system, and if you have any blip on your record, you might be better off refusing to provide ID. Legally, only those who are actually driving are required to carry identification. Passengers in such a situation are strongly urged to politely inquire whether or not they are free to leave the scene, and strongly discouraged from answering any questions which could arouse the suspicion of the police officer. If you have been detained by an officer when you were only riding along in the car, you should contact an experienced attorney immediately to avoid any further complications.
If you have been arrested in Kansas, an experienced Kansas criminal defense lawyer is your best bet to resolve your legal dilemma. Kansas criminal defense attorney Stacey Schlimmer aggressively defends those arrested for criminal offenses in Johnson County and the surrounding areas of Kansas. Our Kansas criminal defense law firm offers a confidential free consultation so call us today at (913) 219-5424 or contact us online.