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Woman in front passenger seat charged with DUI following crash

In October, we wrote about the Wisconsin man who was charged with drunk driving after police discovered him asleep in his van in the early hours of the morning. The keys were in the ignition, but the car was apparently not running.

The arrest of this DUI repeat offender was especially ironic because he had chosen to sleep in his vehicle rather than break the law by driving home drunk. This is not the only recent case in which a Wisconsin resident has been charged with DUI without evidence that they had been driving.

Many states have laws that allow police to charge intoxicated individuals with DUI if they are found to be in "actual physical control" of the vehicle. Recently, a young woman in St. Paul, Minnesota, learned this lesson the hard way.

She was charged with two counts of felony vehicular operation after a minor crash in April, despite the fact that she was riding in the front passenger seat at the time.

The 22-year-old woman had been at a bar, drinking with friends to celebrate her birthday. On the way home, a state trooper intervened when he noticed that the car had struck the Interstate 94 median.

According to the criminal complaint, the trooper smelled alcohol inside the car and noticed that the defendant was slurring her words. The driver and another passenger told the trooper that the defendant had grabbed and jerked the steering wheel prior to the crash.

While the designated driver had a BAC well below the legal limit, a later test revealed that the young woman in the passenger seat had a BAC of 0.21 percent, nearly three times the legal limit.

The officer read the defendant her rights, but she told him that she was not the driver. Unfortunately, that was not enough to spare her from drunk driving charges. The criminal complaint stated: "[Defendant] was then told that she was in physical control of the vehicle when she grabbed the steering wheel, causing the vehicle to crash."

This is yet another example of why those who have been drinking need to be especially careful in and around cars, even if they are not planning to drive. As unfair as it may seem, the laws in many states sometimes allow non-driving individuals to be charged with DUI.

Source: UPI, "Minn. woman wasn't driving but faces DUI," Dec. 1, 2011

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