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Can a Passenger Be Charged With DUI in Arizona?

Posted on March 13, 2023 in DUI

Arizona has some of the strictest drunk driving laws in the country. Arizona’s driving under the influence (DUI) law prohibits not only driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated but being in “actual physical control” of a vehicle. This means that, in some circumstances, a vehicle passenger can be charged with DUI.

The Answer: It Depends

In general, if you are riding in a motor vehicle as a passenger and are not driving the car, you cannot be arrested or found guilty of driving under the influence. If the person driving you is intoxicated, he or she could get arrested and charged with a DUI, but you will not face legal trouble. There is an exception, however, if you are the person found to be in actual physical control of the vehicle. If you were in the passenger seat of a vehicle that you own with no other driver, for example, you could face DUI charges.

You Can Get a DUI in Arizona Without Driving

 Arizona’s drunk driving law is found in the Revised Statutes Section 28-1381. The exact language of this law is that “it is unlawful for a person to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle” while under the influence. It lists circumstances where this is against the law, including having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more or being under the influence of any intoxicating drug.

The part of the law that could involve a passenger is actual physical control of a vehicle. This means that even if an individual is not actively driving or operating a motor vehicle, if there is enough evidence to show actual physical control, he or she could be arrested for DUI. Actual physical control means direct influence, domination or regulation of a motor vehicle. It refers to having the apparent ability to operate a car.

A driver in Arizona could be arrested for DUI even if the car is in park and the keys are not in the ignition. If he or she is pulled over and sleeping in the driver’s seat, this could still lead to a DUI. Someone who is sitting in the passenger seat or even the back seat of a vehicle could be found guilty of DUI, in certain circumstances. If the vehicle was running, the vehicle’s lights were on, the passenger was awake or there are other reasons to suspect that the intoxicated passenger could control the vehicle, this may meet the state’s definition of drunk driving.

What Must Be Proven in a DUI Case Against a Passenger?

 If you get arrested for DUI as a passenger in Arizona, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. There may be actions your lawyer can take to prevent charges from being filed against you. Your lawyer can negotiate with the prosecution from the beginning and file motions or subpoenas to attempt to have the charges dismissed. A judge may agree to a diversion program, for example, that erases the charges in exchange for the completion of counseling. 

If your DUI case goes to trial, the prosecution will have the burden of proving that you are guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The elements that must be proven include your intoxication or impairment and the fact that you were in actual physical control of the vehicle at the time of the arrest or within two hours of consuming drugs or alcohol. Your lawyer can work to show that the prosecutor does not have enough evidence to meet the burden of proof, including arguing against the allegation of actual physical control.

If you were riding in the car as a motor vehicle passenger or found in the passenger seat of a vehicle, your lawyer may be able to prove that you were not in actual physical control of the car. Someone else may have been driving, for example, or you may not have had the keys to the car in your vicinity. An attorney will build the strongest possible defense strategy against a DUI charge on your behalf.

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