A Comprehensive Synopsis of What Happens if Someone Gets a DUI in Your Car
DUI cases are a big part of the criminal defense landscape in Texas, which means that there's quite a bit of focus placed on the inner workings of them. If you should be deemed legally intoxicated, the Texas Department of Public Safety could suspend your driver's license following your DUI arrest.
Following that, you may have one or more court appearances on the horizon, which could mean harsh punishments, especially if there's any previous DUI incident on your record. You may end up with a separate suspended license order from the administrative one mentioned above.
It can be a lot to digest and may even throw your life off entirely. What happens though if someone else is intoxicated in your car? How does it go if the person isn't driving? Do both the driver and the passenger face charges? What about if you lend a friend or family member your car and the police arrest the person for a DUI? What does that mean for you, the registered owner of the motor vehicle?
The information below covers third-party passengers and drivers. You or your loved ones may need legal representation to navigate the potentially serious consequences that come with a DUI arrest in Texas. If so, call Sparks Law Firm at (817) 381-7846 for a free initial consultation.
How Texas Law Identifies a Drunk Driver
The first step is identifying how the state of Texas categorizes a drunk driver before looking at the potential penalties. First, drunk driving requires the accused to be in control of the motor vehicle at the time of concern. Furthermore, DUI driving is categorized by being deemed as legally intoxicated, which constitutes a traffic violation.
The concept of legal intoxication can mean any of two things or a combination of both. First, there's the situation where a driver's blood alcohol content exceeds the legal limit of 0.08%. Second, the driver could be unable to demonstrate normal use of physical or mental faculties.
Can Passengers Face Criminal Charges?
If you were not doing the drunk driving but are intoxicated yourself, you're unlikely to face any repercussions that mirror the ones a driver may face. It stands to reason that you wouldn't end up with a suspended license, for example. Nevertheless, there are charges you can face under Texas law for other reasons.
Possession of Drugs
Even if you're not the person driving during a traffic stop and your public intoxication is not a problem, it remains illegal to be in possession of controlled substances or other illicit drugs at any time. Therefore, the police are well within their right to arrest you. Of course, the outcome of such cases can vary depending on the factors at play, but you could end up doing community service or sitting in county jail at the end of it all.
During a traffic stop, the police, upon noticing the presence of drugs in the vehicle, are likely going to try to identify the owner. If that happens to be you, then you should retain an attorney as soon as you can upon being arrested.
Texas law also has an open container violation clause that makes it illegal for any open alcohol container to be in a motor vehicle being driven, even if it sits on the passenger side of the car.
This rule applies even if the container is empty when the police discover it. The only legal way to travel with any previously opened alcohol container is to have them in your glove compartment, trunk, or rear cargo area.
In a worst-case scenario, both the driver and any passengers may end up with an open container citation. This violation attracts a fine of up to $500.
Control Switching or Ambiguity
Note that there are a couple of exemptions that can lead to the person in the passenger's seat ending up with a DUI. First, there's the matter of control switching in a motor vehicle. To avoid a charge for drunk driving, the driver may switch positions with the passenger. Should the police be able to prove this, the "passenger" could be looking at an addition to the applicable driving record.
Additionally, if there's no one in the driver's seat of the car and the person in the passenger's seat has possession of the keys, then a DUI could be on the horizon. Intoxicated people sometimes try to sleep off the feeling in the vehicle before moving, but remember this can lead to a conviction under Texas law. Try using warm air conditioning instead.
Penalties for Drunk Driving Associated with Child Endangerment in Texas
If a driver gets a DUI with a child passenger present, things go from bad to worse. That's because the law sees the driver as having assumed responsibility for the safety of the child. Once there is one more occupant in the car under 15 years old, then the child passenger consideration becomes a concern.
If convicted of a DUI with a child passenger, the penalties could be:
Annual surcharge fees of up to $2,000 for three years to keep your driver's license
Fines of up to $10,000
180-day suspended license
Ignition interlock device requirement
What if the Person Was Driving the Vehicle?
Now comes the question of what happens if the third party is found to be driving the car during a traffic stop instead of being the passenger. The driver could deal with a license loss of up to two years, as well as dealing with jail time or fines.
The question is what does that mean for you as the owner of the car? Can you be implicated and face charges for an offense too?
As the owner of the car, the possibility of facing negligent entrustment is of high concern. In this case, the driver may decide to try to lessen potential penalties by suing you. Essentially, this boils down to an attempt to prove that you offered the vehicle knowing that someone is unfit to be driving. In fact, you would even be said to have encouraged it.
Alternatively, the police can arrest you and hold you responsible on the same grounds. Even if the driver doesn't decide to go this route, if law enforcement deems that the driver is unfit to be operating a car and is under your instruction to do so, the negligent entrustment concerns begin to creep in. Mitigating potential punishments requires a strong defense.
Sometimes, even if you didn't commit the crime, you can face what is known as an accessory charge. In this case, you are deemed to be a source of coercion or encouragement and contributed to an intoxicated person's decision to drive.
First, there's the concern of shared responsibility. In this case, you went beyond the basic step of loaning your car to someone else. Instead, the one driving the car was doing so to complete a task that you requested and may have potentially been doing so on your behalf.
Vehicle Code 10851
Vehicle Code 10851 makes provisions that protect car owners in instances where they do not know the current driver's use of the vehicle.
The gist of the code states that anyone who decides to drive or take a vehicle owned by someone else without explicit consent of the owner and who intends to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner of possession or use falls under this umbrella. Furthermore, it applies whether there is intent to steal the vehicle or not.
Additionally, the clause extends to cover those who may be accessories to the one who took the vehicle in an unauthorized manner. The code states that any of these people are guilty of a public offense.
Should they be convicted, they could be facing time in a county jail for no more than a year in jail or a fine of no more than $5,000. Alternatively, both the jail sentence and the fine may be imposed simultaneously.
This kind of charge may take several following forms, including:
Grand theft auto, where there would be permanent intent to deprive the owner via theft
Joyriding, where a vehicle is unlawfully taken and is potentially temporary
Considering that the car owner would not have known that this would happen, there would be no ruling of negligence.
Insurance Company Considerations
Your insurance policy is likely going to factor into these kinds of vehicle concerns. Additionally, it helps to know what kind of insurance the driver has before you lend your vehicle. Remember that DOC (driving other cars) coverage exists, and it's in your best interest to ensure whoever is getting behind the wheel of your car can prove that they have it.
While you don't lend your vehicle expecting anyone to damage it, you never know what can happen on the road and it's best to know that any charges incurred are going to be well covered.
Apart from the public intoxication considerations that would've led the police to pull someone over in your vehicle, there may be concerns about damages too that ended with the driver's being arrested. For example, there could be swerving, reckless driving, or even a collision at play. In any of these cases, you need to know how much damage was caused to your car, so you can reach out for an estimate as soon as possible.
Consider your insurance deductible as well since the insurance firm is not going to pay anything until you've covered that amount. Finally, there's the matter of your premium. With a DUI and damage, your premium is going up, even though you're not to blame.
Ignition Interlock Device Concerns
One of the worst times for any of these situations to happen is when you already have a court-ordered ignition interlock system. In this case, you would already be dealing with the law for your own intoxicated driving offense. You could be dealing with a lack of a valid license that's not occupational, potential prison time, potential fines, etc.
Therefore, the last thing you want is another intoxicated individual providing a breath sample that indicates a blood alcohol level beyond the legal limit. Not only does this mean the car is not going to start, but it also may translate to other consequences. Unfortunately, the court is not going to care who was driving your car as the failed test is going to be attributed to the owner of the vehicle.
What Happens to Your Car?
The focus so far has largely been on what happens to the people involved, especially the ones being directly arrested for a DWI. The next question is, what happens to the vehicle in all of this. Clearly, the police aren't arresting you, taking the cuffs off, and then allowing you to drive home. So, it's time to dive into how your vehicle is handled during any of these incidents.
To put it simply, the circumstances of the arrest factor into it, though it's also largely based on how law enforcement chooses to go about it at any time.
The first potential outcome is that the vehicle is going to be left on the roadside. Typically, people who have a valid license when they get pulled over get more leeway than those who don't. Having your car left on the roadside after a DWI arrest is possibly the best-case scenario for this kind of thing.
First, it's tagged, which lets any subsequent law enforcement officials who may see it know that it has already been dealt with. This works out because you can then simply have anybody you trust enough take care of it. Alternatively, with a valid temporary license, you can get it yourself as soon as you're free to before it's towed because of being seen as abandoned.
Alternatively, law enforcement can choose to send your vehicle to an impound lot. The big issue here is that going this way introduces the possibility of dealing with impound fees. Typically, police choose to do this for several reasons and they're not necessarily always fair or valid. Sometimes, they simply want to make your life harder, which is why you need a DWI lawyer as soon as possible.
If driving with a suspended license or there's an aggravating factor, a longer impound period (between 30 and 90 days) may be set. (Find out what happens when you get a DUI without a license) Remember that impound fees stack up, especially since there's a per-day storage fee charged. The longer impound period is almost always the direct result of extenuating circumstances.
If any of these things happen while someone else is driving your vehicle, then that offender is likely going to face all the direct charges, such as a DWI with a child passenger present. Of course, it's that much easier for you to go get your vehicle when you weren't the one driving.
However, it doesn't mean you're not going to be held responsible for anything. Unfortunately, that does not necessarily mean you're out of the woods. If you knew the offender was unfit to drive or that there was no valid driver's license, Texas law can hold you partially responsible and you are also going to face other charges of your own.
Prevention of a DUI in Your Vehicle
If someone is going to choose to drink and drive, you can't directly present that, nor do you have any control over the consequences they must face for taking that kind of risk. However, you can indirectly prevent it by taking steps to minimize the likelihood of your car being involved in an alcohol-based legal violation.
First, consider adequately vetting the driver before lending the vehicle. This goes beyond ensuring that there's appropriate insurance coverage present. Who is this? Has the potential driver ever been before a judge for a DWI? Was there a conviction? Is there substance abuse history that you're aware of? Do you know the level of driving skill present?
Next, be paranoid about your car if you always want the best possible outcome when you allow someone to use it. If you aren't able to vouch for where your vehicle is going to be beforehand, don't lend it out. Consider getting and installing a tracker as well.
Furthermore, if you're taking your car to be worked on, stick around and don't create the possible circumstances for a joyride.
Schedule a Free Consultation with an Experienced DWI Lawyer Today!
DWI lawyers in Tarrant County deal with DWI matters all the time and the persons at the center are not always the ones who own the vehicles they're caught in. Unfortunately, Texas law can implicate innocent car owners if they are not careful. Therefore, you mustn't allow the kind of circumstances that would cause you to be charged to arise.
If you do face charges, you need a criminal defense to fight for justice on your behalf. If this sounds like you and you're in Fort Worth, Texas, Sparks Law Firm has a team of superb lawyers who are ready to serve you. They can help address any question concerning DUI cases, including how are DUI checkpoints legal.
Contact Sparks Law Firm at (817) 381-7846 for a free consultation today!