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Why was I arrested when it was my passenger who was drunk or high?

Trying to be a responsible designated driver can be hard. As the sober driver, you have to put up with rounding up friends when it's time to leave, deal with stubborn drunk people, and worry about people throwing up in your car. However, as a sober driver, you should never have to deal with a drunk driving arrest because of a mistaken police officer.

The police can arrest a driver on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) in California if they have probable cause to believe the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, drunk or high passengers can give police the impression that the driver may also be impaired. However, if the police arrested you when you were sober, you should contact the experienced East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelickto make sure you don't end up with a criminal record.

How does a drunk passenger make it look like the driver might be drunk too?

What the police are looking for during a traffic stop is any sign that a driver may be under the influence. This includes using tests, like a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) device or field sobriety tests. It may also include a driver's admission that he or she was drinking.

However, most of the time, the police are looking for any signs that a driver may have been drinking alcohol or using drugs recently. This might include:

  • Smell of alcohol on the driver's breath,
  • Smell of marijuana inside the vehicle,
  • Cans or bottles of alcohol in sight,
  • Evidence of marijuana, like a burnt joint, or
  • Evidence of drugs, like pipes or powders.

When passengers are drunk, they may smell like alcohol, giving the police the impression that at least one person has been drinking. An impaired passenger may also have a flask, can of beer, or mixed drink inside the vehicle, which can also be a charge for having an open container of alcohol.

When passengers have been smoking pot, there may be the smell of marijuana inside the car, and the passengers may also be in possession of marijuana.

Generally, the police can use any of these “signs” of alcohol or drugs to delay a traffic stop long enough to determine if the driver may be impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. 

If my passenger smells like weed can the police arrest me as the driver?

The smell of marijuana can be strong and hard to pinpoint. If one of the passengers in a vehicle has recently smoked marijuana, the entire car may smell like marijuana and the smell can transfer to the clothes of others, including the driver.

There is currently no standard roadside marijuana breath testing device like there is for alcohol. The only reliable way law enforcement can test for evidence of marijuana use is through a blood or urine test. These tests are only required after the driver has been arrested.

Under California's implied consent laws, if a driver is arrested on suspicion of a DUI, the driver must consent to a chemical test. If you do not consent to a chemical test, then you can lose your license for one year!

That means, if you say you do not want to submit to a chemical test after a DUI arrest, your license can be suspended for a year, even if you are completely sober.

Belligerent Passengers Don't Help Matters

Having belligerent passengers in the vehicle sure does not help matters. If an officer is on the fence about whether or not to arrest the driver for a DUI, having drunk friends yelling at the cop sure won't help your case. However, having an obnoxious passenger is not against the law. If you were not impaired but arrested for a DUI, talk to your California DUI lawyer about your case and how to fight a criminal record so you can keep your license to drive.

What should I do if I was arrested as a sober designated driver?

As a sober driver, you should not have to suffer a criminal record and loss of your driver's license because of the police officer's mistake. There are defenses available to challenge your arrest and clear your name. East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 35 years of DUI experience and understands how to challenge DUI charges. If you have any questions about your DUI or driving restrictions, contact East Bay DUI defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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