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In the state of California, it is illegal for a driver to be operating a vehicle while they are under the influence of alcohol. The passenger in this vehicle is not violating any laws by being intoxicated, unless they think they can switch seats with the driver to fool law enforcement. Why would a passenger want to risk their own freedom and financial future taking the driver’s seat? Regardless the reason, it is important to understand exactly what happens when a driver and passenger switch seats in a DUI stop.
Why Would Occupants Switch Seats During a DUI Stop?
The reasons why a passenger and driver may switch seats during a DUI stop are numerous, most in an attempt to help the driver avoid getting a DUI charge on their record. The sober passenger could be a friend or family member, and in an effort to help, they switch seats so that there is no charge of DUI. This effort to fool law enforcement rarely works, and in addition to the original driver getting those DUI charges, the passenger is now subjected to serious criminal charges. The driver could be intoxicated and the passenger realizes that an arrest would destroy them financially and impact their ability to work in the future, so they switch seats.
When the passenger believes that they could pass any field sobriety test, they think there is no harm or foul by taking the place of the inebriated driver. The driver could also have a prior DUI and the passenger is hoping to help them avoid criminal charges. Although this ploy sometimes fools the officer initially, dash cameras are able to quickly identify the switch and help give the officer the proof they need to make multiple arrests.
What Happens After the Passenger and Driver Switch Seats?
While the officer is closely following the vehicle right until it comes to a complete stop, they are looking carefully for any strange activity occurring in that vehicle. A trained officer can tell instantly when two people are trying to change seats once the car has come to a complete stop. When the officer thinks he noticed furtive movements, they become increasingly suspicious that criminal activity is taking place. The officer will often refer back to the recording device in their vehicle to confirm their suspicions, then proceed to question each of the occupants to try and get to the bottom of the story,
During the investigation, the officer can and will question both occupants, administer sobriety field tests, and even bring in both parties for further testing. The reason the officer administers the field sobriety tests is to get the results on record now, while the dispute about who was driving is still under investigation. Once the evidence shows who was clearly driving the vehicle, those field tests can be attached to the person and case.
Switching Seats After an Accident
If the vehicle was involved in an accident, a passenger may switch seats with the driver to help them avoid being held responsible for the accident. The passenger might be sober while the driver under the influence, so the passenger assumes that the driver will be guilty of DUI and responsible for the accident even if it wasn’t their fault. By switching seats, the passenger assumes that the other driver could be found at fault and the original driver might get away without being charged. Although this might fool the officer on the scene temporarily, crime scene investigators can determine very easily based on injuries and other physical evidence, who was operating the vehicle and who was the passenger.
In addition to the physical evidence, the courts will accept testimony from witnesses who can accurately recall what happened and who was driving. The original driver could be arrested on the spot if disinterested witness testimony indicates the switching of seats occurred after the accident.
Switching Seats Penalties
The penalties for passenger and driver switching seats during a DUI pullover are severe for both parties. Field sobriety testing and blood alcohol tests will eventually show the level of sobriety in one or both occupants. In addition to the DUI charge, both could be subject to criminal liabilities. When one or more of the occupants of the car lie to the officer about who was driving, both can also be charged with giving false information to a police officer. When the actions of driver and passenger are in an attempt to provide false information for an insurance claim, both are also at risk to being charged with perjury and insurance fraud, which in California are considered felony-level offenses.
Your California DUI attorney can effectively fight these type cases and will work on your behalf to be a tough litigator in order to get a more favorable outcome. The penalties for switching seats during a DUI stop are severe for both occupants, something that should not be taken lightly.