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Can You Be Charged as an Accomplice to Drunk Driving?


I periodically get calls from reporters concerning legal issues in DUI cases.  Often they simply involve some celebrity who was arrested for drunk driving and don't really involve any interesting issues.  A few days ago, however, a reporter called with an interesting situation in Connecticut — the arrest of two teenagers for not stopping their intoxicated friend from driving — a friend who thereafter drove and crashed in to a tree and died.  

The reporter wanted to know:  Can the two friends be charged, prosecuted and convicted for not stopping her?

Teens Arrested for Letting Friend Drive Drunk in Fatal Car Crash

Glastonbery, CT.  Dec. 6 — Could you be held accountable for allowing someone else to drive drunk? Two 17-year-old boys arrested in Glastonbury, CT on Thursday are finding out the hard way that you can. They were charged with misdemeanors, as police say they knew their friend Jane Modlesky, also 17, was too drunk to drive when she got behind the wheel of an SUV in July before crashing into a tree and dying.

The young men, one of whom was driving and the other of whom was a passenger before getting out of the car and watching Modlesky drive off into the early morning, were charged separately. One was charged with reckless endangerment in the second degree, violation of passenger restrictions and operating a motor vehicle between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., while the other was charged with violation of passenger restrictions and operating a motor vehicle between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Both are due in court later this month.

“This is a highly unusual situation,” California attorney Lawrence Taylor, author of the law book “Drunk Driving Defense” and a former law professor, tells Yahoo Shine. “It’s basically saying that they had a positive duty to stop her. But you cannot be prosecuted because you didn’t stop someone from engaging in criminal conduct: If someone is holding a gun and is about to shoot it, and you don’t pull it out of their hand, you cannot be held accountable. So I think the police are kind of overreaching here.”

Taylor further explains that DUI is considered a "general intent crime," rather than a "specific intent crime" such as stealing or murder. “If you have a general intent crime, it’s pretty hard to be an accomplice,” he notes. “But having said that, there are states who have said yes, you can be an accomplice.”

In Washington in 2002, for example, a 29-year-old woman was charged with being an accomplice to drunken and reckless driving after she was accused of convincing someone to get behind the wheel; the subsequent accident killed six people, while she was the only survivor. She was later acquitted by the state Supreme Court. While that was a rare case, a more frequent situation is that of bartenders being held liable, under state "dram shop" laws, for continuing to serve drunk patrons who then get behind the wheel of a vehicle… 

In another case in Maine, two men were drinking together in a bar. When they left, the owner of the car had his friend drive since the friend was less intoxicated. The two were stopped by the police, and the owner/passenger was taken to a police station — where he refused to take a breath test because he said he had not been driving. He was subsequently charged with operating or attempting to operate a motor vehicle under the influence. At trial, the jury found him guilty as both a principal and an accomplice.

On appeal, the court held that the accomplice statute applied to drunk driving offenses, and that the evidence was sufficient for a jury to find both the intent and the solicitation necessary for accomplice liability. The defendant, said the court, had the specific intent to enlist his accomplice/friend in driving under the influence. State v. Stratton, 591 A.2d 246 (Me. 1991).

How far can this go? Can you be guilty of letting a friend drive while intoxicated? The majority rule in American courts today is that any passenger, including the owner, can be held criminally liable as an aider/abettor in the commission of the offense of DUI. Nor is there any requirement that the accomplice be a passenger or owner of the vehicle. In Guzman v. State, 586 S.E.2d 59 (Ga. App. 2003), for example, the defendant was convicted of two counts of vehicular homicide when he allowed a 14-year-old to drive his bother and a friend in Guzman’s vehicle after having given beer to the boys. Mr. Guzman’s criminal intent was inferred by his conduct in giving the driver alcohol and the car keys, then standing silently by as the 14-year-old got behind the wheel and drove away.

DUI Accomplice FAQ

What is an accomplice to DUI?

Being an accomplice to DUI means knowingly aiding, abetting, or encouraging someone to commit a DUI offense. This can include actions such as providing alcohol to an intoxicated person who then drives.

What are the potential consequences of being an accomplice to DUI?

As an accomplice to DUI, you could face criminal charges, fines, and potential imprisonment if convicted. Additionally, you may be held liable for any damages or injuries resulting from the DUI incident.

How can I defend against accomplice to DUI charges?
Defenses against accomplice to DUI charges may include lack of knowledge or intent to aid in the DUI offense, coercion or duress, or lack of sufficient evidence linking you to the DUI incident. Consult with an experienced DUI defense attorney to explore your legal options.
Should I seek legal representation if accused of being an accomplice to DUI?

Yes, it's essential to seek legal representation if you're accused of being an accomplice to DUI. A skilled DUI defense attorney can assess your case, build a strong defense strategy, and advocate on your behalf to protect your rights and achieve the best possible outcome.

Query: Assuming the validity of an accomplice theory, could not the accomplice’s own intoxication degate the specific intent required to be an accomplice?

The post Can You Be Charged as an Accomplice to Drunk Driving? appeared first on Law Offices of Taylor and Taylor - DUI Central.

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