Archive for June 30th, 2011

Is It a Crime to Turn Over the Keys to a Drunk Driver?

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Is it possible to be an accomplice to drunk driving – that is, to be convicted of “aiding and abetting” a person who was driving under the influence of alcohol?

In one case in Maine, two men were drinking together in a bar.  When they left, the owner of the car had his friend drive since the friend was less intoxicated.  The two were stopped by the police, and the owner/passenger was taken to a police station — where he refused to take a breath test because he said he had not been driving.  He was subsequently charged with operating or attempting to operate a motor vehicle under the influence.  At trial, the jury found him guilty as both a principal and an accomplice. 

On appeal, the court held that the accomplice statute applied to drunk driving offenses, and that the evidence was sufficient for a jury to find both the intent and the solicitation necessary for accomplice liability.  The defendant, said the court, had the specific intent to enlist his accomplice/friend in driving under the influence.  State v. Stratton, 591 A.2d 246 (Me. 1991). 

How far can this go?  Can you be guilty of letting a friend drive while intoxicated?

The majority rule in American courts today is that any passenger, including the owner, can be held criminally liable as an aider/abettor in the commission of the offense of DUI.  Nor is there any requirement that the accomplice be a passenger in the vehicle.  In Guzman v. State, 586 S.E.2d 59 (Ga. App. 2003), for example, the defendant was convicted of two counts of vehicular homicide when he allowed a 14-year-old to drive his bother and a friend in the defendant’s vehicle after having given beer to the boys.  His criminal intent was inferred by his conduct in giving the driver alcohol and the car keys, then standing silently by as the 14-year-old got behind the wheel and drive away.

Note:  Drunk driving is a general intent crime — that is, it doesn’t require proof of an intent to drive under the influence.  Accomplice liability ("aiding and abetting"), on the other hand, is a specific intent offense — it requires proof of an intent to assist the commission of a crime.  Query:  Assuming the validity of an accomplice theory, could not the accomplice’s own intoxication degate the specific intent required to be an accomplice?
 

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