Can Passengers Be Liable for Failing to Intervene to Prevent Drunk Driving?


January 06, 2014

A novel DUI case currently pending in another state suggests an interesting new strategy for combating drunk driving. The prosecutor in the case has essentially charged two 17-year-old boys as accomplices for allowing a 17-year-old girl to climb behind the wheel of an SUV even though she was too intoxicated to drive safely according to a Yahoo news report. The unusual drunk driving case raises the prospect of holding passengers accountable for not intervening to prevent drivers who are obviously intoxicated from driving while under the influence of alcohol.

The law generally does not impose a duty on people to intervene and stop others from engaging in criminal activity. Further, DUI is a "general intent crime" rather than a "specific intent crime," and accomplice liability is fairly unusual in criminal prosecutions involving general intent crimes. A "general intent" crime like reckless driving and DUI only requires that the person intend to engage in the conduct that constitutes a criminal offense. There is no requirement that the person who committed the illegal act know the act was illegal or have any intention to violate the law. Specific intent crimes like murder require that the offender possess the additional intention of accomplishing some goal beyond merely the intent to engage in the prohibited act. Further, general intent can be inferred by the fact that the party engaged in the illegal conduct whereas this is not sufficient for specific intent crimes.

However, some states have chosen to impose liability on accomplices for general intent crimes like DUI and reckless driving. When two drivers engage in a drag race, a co-participant may be charged as an accomplice when another racing driver is involved in a collision. Further, some individuals have been charged with being an accomplice to DUI when they hand car keys to a driver who is clearly too intoxicated to safely operate a motor vehicle.

In one example where accomplice liability was imposed for a general intent crime, a woman was charged as an accomplice to DUI and reckless driving based on allegations that she encouraged an intoxicated driver to drive a motor vehicle according to a report by The Seattle Times. The woman who encouraged the drunk driver to climb behind the wheel of the vehicle was the only survivor of a subsequent collision that claimed the lives of six other vehicle occupants. The court documents accused the woman of "soliciting, commanding, encouraging and requesting" that the intoxicated driver climb behind the wheel when the driver's blood alcohol concentration was nearly twice the legal limit.

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This increased trend to impose criminal liability on those who enable or fail to stop drunk drivers could also result in imposing civil liability for monetary recovery. The public policy of preventing some of the 10,000 drunk driving fatalities that occur annually supports imposing such a duty but what types of scenarios would trigger such a duty is completely unclear.

If you or someone close to you has been injured in a DUI car accident, our Georgia drunk driver accident lawyers at Montlick and Associates have been representing injury victims for over thirty years throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Auto Accidents

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Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.