Aside from being an ‘accomplice’ are there other ways family, friends, companions, co-workers and bar tenders could be liable for a drunk driver?
Recently, we posted the following question on Twitter, Facebook and Google +:
“Should friends be arrested for letting friends drive drunk?”
Our question – and a related blog post called “Could you be arrested for letting a friend drive drunk?” – arose from our reaction to the recent national news story about two Connecticut teens who were charged with crimes related to their friend’s fatal drunk driving accident.
The responses we received were both passionate and forceful.
Some people were emphatic that friends should “absolutely” be accountable for knowingly letting their friends drive drunk.
On the other hand, some folks insisted it’s wrong to make one person accountable for another person’s irresponsible and dangerous decision to drive drunk.
This got me thinking about Michigan law and what would happen under the law as it’s written today. It also raises these very interesting questions:
- Can a person in Michigan be charged criminally under Michigan law for “letting” a family member, friend, companion, co-worker or bar patron drive drunk?
- Can the person be charged as a “DUI accomplice”?
- Are there other ways in which one person could be held liable under Michigan law for another person committing a DUI?
Below I will discuss the answers under Michigan law.
Can a person be charged as a DUI ‘accomplice’ in Michigan?
If you “let” a family member, friend, companion, co-worker or bar patron drive drunk, can you be charged criminally as a DUI accomplice under Michigan law?
It appears you could if you “aided,” “abetted” or otherwise encouraged, supported or assisted the other person in committing a DUI.
Under Michigan law, a person is an “accomplice” to a crime if he or she:
“[P]rocures, counsels, aids, or abets” or otherwise “perform[s] acts or [gives] encouragement [or support] that assist[s] the commission of a crime.” (See: MCL 767.39; People v. Robinson, #126379, 2006; People v. Moore, #120543, 2004 )
Applying the “accomplice” statute in the DUI context, Michigan courts have upheld convictions for “aiding and abetting” in the commission of DUIs committed by someone else which caused death and serious injury to others.
What actions make a person a ‘DUI accomplice’?
In People v. Middleton and People v. Falicki, the Michigan Court of Appeals considered the following actions in upholding the defendants’ convictions for aiding and abetting, i.e., being accomplices to, DUIs committed by someone else that caused death and injury to others:
- The defendant “permitted [the drunk driver] to drive his car despite the fact that he should have known she was intoxicated.” (Middleton)
- The defendant “could tell that [the drunk driver] was intoxicated” and the defendant “expected [the drunk driver] would drive …” (Falicki)
- The defendant “suggested that they travel to [a] party, prompting [the drunk driver] to decide to drive although it was apparent that she was intoxicated …” (Falicki)
- The defendant “possessed an awareness of the fact that [the drunk driver] was intoxicated.” (Middleton)
- The drunk driver “felt drunk” and a witness said the drunk driver was “visibly intoxicated shortly before the accident.” (Middleton)
- The defendant “made beer available for [the drunk driver] while she was driving.” (Middleton)
- The defendant “supplied [the drunk driver] with beer throughout the evening.” (Middleton)
- The defendant “bought beer” and “made beer available [to the drunk driver] on a continuous basis throughout the day …” (Falicki)
How does one avoid being a ‘DUI accomplice’?
Here’s where things get difficult and where the law is less clear. How does a person avoid being a “DUI accomplice” if the person suspects that a family member, friend, companion, co-worker or bar patron is going to drive drunk?
Unfortunately, neither Michigan’s statutory nor case law provides answers to this thorny question.
For instance, people need to know which, if any, of the following actions they must take to avoid being a “DUI accomplice”:
- Actively discourage an intoxicated person from driving.
- Call the police.
- Offer to be or arrange for a designated driver.
- Refuse to ride with an intoxicated driver.
- Refrain from buying drinks for (and/or supplying drinks to) anyone whom you know will be driving.
- Use physical force to stop an intoxicated person from driving.
Other ways to be liable for a drunk driver
In addition to being a “DUI accomplice,” there may be other ways for one person to be held liable for another person’s DUI:
- If you let a drunk driver use your car, you could be charged with a misdemeanor and jailed for up to 93 days and fined up to $500. (MCL 257.625(2) and (10))
- If you let a drunk driver use your car and she or he kills or injures someone else, you could be charged with a felony and imprisoned for up to 5 years and fined up to $10,000 for a fatal accident or imprisoned up to 2 years and fined up $5,000 for an accident resulting in serious injury. (MCL 257.625(2) and (10))
- If you let a drunk driver use your car, you could be sued for negligent entrustment.
- If a bar or bartender serves alcohol to a “visibly intoxicated person” and that person, as a result of his or her intoxication, injures or kills another person in a drunk driving accident, the bar and/or bartender can be sued for damages. (MCL 436.1801(3))