Can a Passenger be Charged with DWI in New Jersey?

Most people know that if they operate a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they can be charged with a DWI. However, few people know that you can be charged with a DWI even if you are not driving the vehicle. If you are a passenger who has been arrested or charged with a DWI, you need to contact a skilled New Jersey drunk driving defense attorney as soon as possible. The aftermath of such a charge can be costly both in terms of time and money, but we are committed to helping you fight the charges.

Under New Jersey law, any individual who operates a motor vehicle under the influence of an intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit-producing drug may be found guilty of driving while intoxicated (DWI). When it comes to DWI charges based on inebriation by alcohol, the person’s blood alcohol concentration must be 0.08 percent or higher.

New Jersey’s DWI statute is quite broad. In fact, under New Jersey Statute 34:4-50(a), a police officer can charge a person sitting in a passenger seat for a DWI if the passenger “permitted” the driver to operate the motor vehicle while under the influence. It is important to note that in order for the passenger to be charged, the passenger must have been under the influence as well or found to have knowledge of the offense.

What constitutes “permitting” an intoxicated person to drive has been discussed in many New Jersey Superior Court decisions. The state Supreme Court has adopted a three-part test to determine whether a passenger “permitted” an intoxicated driver to operate a motor vehicle. Under the test, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the passenger defendant i) knew or should have known that the driver was intoxicated; ii) had actual custody or control of the vehicle; and iii) allowed the driver to operate the motor vehicle.

In cases in which both the driver and the passenger are charged with a DWI, the penalties would be the same for both if they were convicted. The penalties for a DWI are mandatory and can be severe, including hefty fines, the loss of driving privileges, community service, prison time, and the mandatory use of ignition interlock systems. As you might expect, if you have been previously convicted of a DWI, the penalties are much more serious than if it is your first offense.

While in the majority of cases, a passenger will not be charged with a DWI, the reality is it can and does sometimes happen. If you have been charged with a DWI as a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, our seasoned New Jersey DWI attorneys may be able to help. A DWI arrest should not be taken lightly because a conviction can carry serious penalties. We understand the stakes are high in these cases, which is why we will build the strongest defense available in your case. Call us today at 877-450-8301 or contact us through our website.

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