It is unusual for a passenger to be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas. According to state law, DWIs only occur when a person operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of and intoxicated because of drugs or alcohol. That said, the police are no strangers to making arrests when they are not warranted.
In some cases, it might not be clear to police who was behind the wheel prior to an accident. In other cases, the arresting police officer might make assumptions about what occurred in the vehicle. When you hire Blass Law, you get the support of a DWI defense lawyer who is ready to fight for you, whether you were a passenger or the driver.
A Person in the Passenger’s Seat Could be in Control of a Vehicle
When it comes to an arrest for DWI, one important question is whether there was anyone in the driver’s seat. If someone else was in the driver’s seat and operating the vehicle in question, it would be a stretch to file criminal charges against anyone in the passenger’s seat. In this scenario, the driver is the person in physical control of the vehicle instead of the passenger.
Whether or not a person is in physical control of a motor vehicle isn’t what’s important, what matters is who was operating the vehicle. The police will often make an arrest in these cases just to take potential offenders into custody––even if later on, an investigation shows no evidence of wrongdoing.
An important consideration is whether a person is seen operating the vehicle, or if another person claims to have seen that person operating the vehicle. Some factors that may influence the decision is whether the vehicle is on, the key is in the ignition, or if the vehicle is in drive. If the key is in the ignition and the vehicle is running, police generally look to see if there is anyone else on scene who could have been operating the vehicle. Texas doesn’t look to see who has physical control over the vehicle, it doesn’t matter, what matters is whether the person operated the vehicle while intoxicated.
The same may not be true in cases where the key is not in the vehicle. Being in the passenger seat and lacking the key could make a strong case that they never operated the vehicle and were not guilty of DWI.
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When the Police Might Arrest a Passenger for a DWI in Texas
It is helpful to remember that the police will not always make a DWI arrest after witnessing a vehicle in motion. There are times when the police will arrive at the scene of an accident before ultimately making a DWI arrest. This can lead to doubt over who operated the vehicle at the time.
In the case of an accident, it is not unusual for all parties to leave the vehicle before the police arrive. This can make it impossible for the police to know with certainty who was behind the wheel at the time of the crash. If none of the parties involved in the accident are willing to admit who was driving, the police could feel pressure to arrest someone and sort it out later.
If the police do not witness who was driving, there is also the potential for an impaired driver to swap seats with their passenger. If the police believe this to be the case, they could arrest the passenger for DWI.
The Police Can Make Mistakes
More than anything, it is worth noting that, while they rarely admit it, the police are sometimes wrong. The thought of being arrested for DWI as a passenger in a vehicle might seem absurd on the surface, but an officer might find a way to justify an arrest just the same. As noted previously, the police might mistakenly believe that the passenger and driver switched seats prior to being pulled over.
It is more important than ever to build a strong defense in cases where the police made a wrongful arrest. At Blass Law, we can help you build the strongest defense strategy possible to avoid a DWI conviction.
A Passenger Could Get Charged With Other Crimes Aside from DWI
Even if a DWI charge is unlikely for a passenger in a moving vehicle, there are other criminal offenses that could apply. Specifically, a passenger could be charged under the state’s open container law, no matter where they are sitting in the vehicle.
Under state law, it is illegal to have an open container of alcohol anywhere in a vehicle. This includes the area where the passenger sits. If a passenger violates this law and the driver is pulled over, the passenger could be charged for an open container in their possession. This could result in a Class C misdemeanor.
What does It Take to Get Charged With DWI in Texas?
Texas Penal Code Section 49.04 outlines the penalties for DWIs in Texas.
Under this law, a person is intoxicated under one of two scenarios. They must either have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher, or the state must show that they lacked the normal use of their faculties due to impairment from drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two.
In cases involving passengers, the definition of driving a motor vehicle is also important. It is worth noting that you could be charged with DWI even if you are not behind the wheel of a car or truck and actively navigating the public roadways.
It is enough to be in physical control of a vehicle to be convicted of DWI—even if you are not driving. With that in mind, there are circumstances where a person in the passenger seat could be charged with DWI.
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Talk to Criminal Defense Attorney Jay Blass Cohen About DWI Charges
Whether you were the passenger or the driver in your vehicle, you have the right to fight back in your DWI case. Legal representation could help you avoid a conviction and move on with your life.
Still have questions about whether a passenger can be charged with DWI in Texas? It’s time to Ask Jay. Contact Blass Law as soon as possible for a confidential consultation.