You Can Be Charged With a DUI in Virginia If You’re a Passenger in the Car

The fine line between a legal blood alcohol content (BAC) and an illegal BAC makes it all too easy to be convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). While it is perfectly legal to drive with a BAC of .07 or lower, you can be charged with and convicted of drunk driving if your BAC is .08 or higher. Charged with a DUI as a passenger

Consequences of a DUI Conviction

Virginia is tough on drunk driving, and the penalties associated with a DUI conviction can be severe. If you’re arrested for a DUI three or more times within a five-year period, you won’t be granted bail while you await trial. Penalties for drunk driving offenses may include:

  • First offense. Driver’s license revocation for one year plus a minimum $250 fine.
  • Second offense. Driver’s license revocation for three years, a minimum $500 fine, and possible jail time of up to one year.
  • Third offense. Driver’s license revocation for an indefinite period, a minimum $1,000 fine, and prosecution as a Class 6 felony.
  • Fourth or subsequent offense. Mandatory minimum of one year in jail.

Being in Physical Control of a Car

Driving under the influence generally refers to a driver operating a vehicle while legally intoxicated, but a DUI is not exclusive to the person behind the wheel. If you’re in physical control of a car, you’re required to be sober. Physical control is the idea that someone who is impaired and in control of a vehicle—even a parked one—poses a danger to society, and is, therefore, guilty of a crime. For example, a passenger who leans over to steer the car while the driver takes off his coat must also be sober. Likewise, a backseat driver who interferes with the driver’s ability to control the car by grabbing the wheel must also be sober.

The question in a physical control case is whether or not you’re in a position to take control of the vehicle and drive while intoxicated. If you have the keys and you’re inside the vehicle, you can be determined to be in control. Intoxicated individuals found sleeping in their cars have been charged with a DUI, even though their keys were in their pockets.

Care and Control

People are often unaware that they can be arrested for impaired driving when they aren’t even operating their car. This typically happens when a police officer finds an individual sitting in the driver’s seat of his parked car and suspects he’s been drinking. The individual is frequently arrested in this situation, even though he was just sitting in his vehicle, sleeping or listening to his favorite radio station. This happens because the intoxicated individual is said to be in care or control of his vehicle, meaning that he has the ability to set the car into motion while under the influence.

Backseat Passengers

When you’re a passenger in a vehicle, you can still be charged with drunk driving even though you’re not behind the wheel. In a recent Virginia case, DUI charges were filed against a woman who had been traveling as a passenger in the backseat of a car. She got into an argument with the driver and grabbed the steering wheel in a fit of rage. The vehicle left the road, flipped over, and five people were injured. One passenger sustained life-threatening injuries resulting from the accident. Since the woman was intoxicated when she grabbed the steering wheel, she was operating the vehicle under Virginia's definition of DUI. She admitted to being intoxicated at the time but didn’t believe she could be charged because she was a passenger. The grand jury saw things differently and charged her with the serious offenses of reckless driving and misdemeanor DUI. This case illustrates how easily a passenger can be convicted of DUI, since taking the wheel for even a moment is all that’s necessary.

You Need an Attorney

Drunk driving charges are serious, and they demand professional representation. If you were recently charged with a DUI or DWI, call us for a free consultation with an experienced drunk driving attorney. Contact the Law Office of Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi, PLLC, by using the form on this page.


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