If you’re out for an evening on the town and find yourself in the car with someone who may have had too much to drink, you might not think you are at risk of any criminal charges. After all, impaired driving is a crime only for the person operating the vehicle, right? While this is true that only those found operating a motor vehicle while under the influence can be charged with a Minnesota DWI, the reality is that others could potentially face aiding and abetting charges.
Can passengers be charged with DWI?
The good news is that you don’t need to fear a DWI charge if you were only a passenger in another person’s car or if another person drove your vehicle. Minnesota law clearly says that for a person to be convicted of a DWI, the government must show that the person either operated the automobile or was in physical control of it. As a passenger, whether the car was yours or not, there’s no risk of being charged with a DWI.
What’s aiding and abetting?
Aiding and abetting is the act of assisting a criminal in the commission of a crime. This can take on a variety of forms, including planning the crime, helping during the crime or concealing the crime after the fact. The person who is charged with aiding and abetting typically wasn’t involved in committing the crime itself (if so, he or she would simply be charged with the crime), but often has knowledge either before or after it was committed.
What does Minnesota law say?
Though you may not have to worry about a DWI, the reality is that in some exceptional cases it is possible for drivers to be charged with aiding and abetting the DWI. Minnesota Statutes Section 169A.78 clearly says that every person who aids or abets the commission of any of the crimes detailed in the driving while impaired chapter can likewise be found guilty for their role in the matter.
Though it is possible for prosecutors to charge a person with aiding and abetting DWI, the reality is that those charges are usually very difficult to prove. Witnesses would need to be found who could prove that the passenger was clearly aware not only that the driver had consumed alcohol, but was actually over the legal limit.
Given the difficulty in mounting a successful case, it is likely that only in extraordinary cases would the government bring aiding and abetting charges against passengers or others in close proximity to a drunk driver.