The short answer is: Yes, a passenger can be charged with aiding and abetting DWI.
In a recent accident, which occurred in Gastonia, NC, two charges related to impaired driving have occurred. Typically, you would think that if drivers have two separate charges, that they were driving two separate vehicles. However, in this particular case, both people being charged were driving in the same vehicle. Here, the driver and the passenger will be receiving charges related to impaired driving after an accident occurred where the passenger grabbed the steering wheel to navigate the vehicle while the driver was texting.
The untypical thing here, is that the driver of the vehicle was sober at the time; however the passenger was intoxicated. Therefore, the passenger was taken to the hospital and thereafter charged with DWI. The driver of the vehicle will be charged with aiding and abetting a DWI; according to North Carolina law, someone will be charged with aiding and abetting a DWI if they let an intoxicated person operate the vehicle. Here, the intoxicated person was the passenger, and the driving was the enabler who allowed the person to operate the vehicle while he was texting.
Aiding and abetting a DWI is one of the most strict rules that are part of the NC DWI statute. In North Carolina, you do not have to be driving a vehicle to be convicted of driving while impaired. If all you do is ride in a vehicle with an impaired driver, “all who participate are guilty as principals.” State v. Nall, S.E.2d 354 (1953). However, the major question is what is considered “participating” in a DWI?
In North Carolina, State v. Gibbs, a conviction was upheld where a man, who owned a truck, allowed another individual to drive he vehicle while impaired. The Court of Appeals considered this case in that the evidentiary record supporting a factual finding that the owner knew or should have known that the driver was intoxicated, and, as owner of the vehicle, was in position to control its operation. State v. Gibbs, 44 S.E.2d 201 (1947),
While simply being present in a car is not sufficient to support a DWI conviction of a passenger, but passengers do need to be cautious and be aware of their rights. Just like the drivers, passengers accompanying drivers being investigated for impaired driving should be aware of his or her rights, particularly the right to remain silent and not give incriminating information to police.
Therefore, the question of whether a passenger is guilty of impaired driving under an aiding and abetting theory may turn on whether or not the State can prove that the passenger knew the driver was impaired, and also whether the passenger participated in the impaired driving in some way, beyond simply being present in the vehicle.
If you or a loved one has been charged with DWI, or aiding and abetting a DWI, contact the law offices of Robert J. Reeves, P.C. at our Charlotte, North Carolina office. For a confidential consultation, contact us at 704-499-9000, or toll-free at 877-374-5999.