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The driver was drunk, so why am I also facing criminal charges?

If you’ve ever had a discussion with friends or loved ones regarding drunk driving laws in our state, you’ve probably also heard a few things that might not necessarily be true. Just like with the myths about sucking on pennies or swishing with mouth wash prior to a Breathalyzer to fool the sensor, there are also some myths about DUIs that we think our Orlando readers should know about.

One of these myths that you may have heard is that an officer in Florida can’t charge a passenger with a DUI if they weren’t driving the vehicle. Some residents, including perhaps some of our readers, are surprised though when they are charged with a DUI as a passenger. So what’s going on, you might be asking? Well, a DUI charge for a passenger has a lot to do with how the courts determine whether or not a person is exerting actual physical control over a vehicle or not.

As we explained back in February on this blog, a person can be charged with driving under the influence if it can be determined that a person was intoxicated and had physical control of the vehicle. In our February post, we used the example of jerking the wheel as a passenger of a car to avoid oncoming traffic. In this situation, you would be in control of the vehicle.

But what about if you’re just sitting there? Can you still be charged with a DUI? The answer could be yes if you follow the guidelines handed down by the Supreme Court of Florida in an instructional document for jurors. According to our state’s Supreme Court, a person is considered to be in actual physical control of a vehicle if they have the “capability to operate the vehicle” regardless of whether or not the person actually is operating it.

It’s because of subtle nuances of the law like this and drunk-driving myths that make it difficult for people to know when they are in violation of the law or not. The rigidity of the law and the assertiveness of prosecutors doesn’t make things any easier, especially because most people only have a basic understanding of the law and how it applies to them.

Remember, you don’t have to face a DUI charge alone. You do have the right to a lawyer and can obtain one whenever you feel the need.



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