In my last post, I wrote about Amanda Engle who was charged with disorderly conduct for spitting in the pizza of an officer who had arrested her on a DUI charge last April. It turns out, it may be that the reason Engle was still heated about the DUI arrest was because she wasn’t even driving drunk.
Last April, Engle was charged and subsequently convicted of a DUI under Tennessee’s “DUI by consent” law. The law provides that the owner or passenger of a vehicle can be charged with a DUI if they knowingly allow a third party to operate that vehicle while also knowing them to be intoxicated. In other words, a person can be charged with a DUI if they weren’t driving, but allowed someone else to drive their car drunk.
Unfortunately for those who think that they’re doing the right thing by handing their keys over, the punishment is the same as if they had actually been driving drunk.
Although the law is widely criticized by legal authorities, the state’s Supreme Court upheld the law’s validity in 1962. A man claimed he had been too intoxicated to know that he was turning his car over to an intoxicated friend, who subsequently killed a child. The court ruled that the man who turned over his car was criminally negligent.
How is an intoxicated person, like the defendant in the 1962 case, supposed to know if the other person they’re handing their keys to is too intoxicated to drive?
Furthermore, officers use a variety of tests to determine if someone is too drunk to drive; breathalyzers, field sobriety tests, etc. How is the average person to be able to tell if a driver is drunk, especially if the driver is barely over the legal limit.
Might it be possible for victims of domestic violence or emotional abuse to be too afraid to confront and prevent an abusive spouse from hoping into the driver’s seat drunk? I think so.
If the driver gets convicted, usually through a plea bargain, any defenses that the passenger might have had get thrown out the window and a conviction for the passenger is nearly a certainty.
God forbid a law like this ever makes its way to California.
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