An inebriated passenger who yanks on the steering wheel and causes an accident can be guilty of drunken driving.
That was the conclusion Friday of a state appeals court in San Francisco, which upheld the conviction of a Sonoma County juvenile who sent her boyfriend's car tumbling into a ditch.
The accident happened near Santa Rosa late one night in July 2009. The driver, bruised and in shock, flagged down a policeman who found the overturned car alongside the road several miles away. The teenage passenger, identified by the court as F.H., was lying about 20 yards away covered in dirt, with a broken leg and spinal injuries.
F.H. told the officer she had been drinking before entering the car, then grabbed the wheel during an argument with her boyfriend, causing him to lose control and crash. Her blood-alcohol level tested at .10 percent in the hospital, above the legal limit of .08 percent, the court said.
She was convicted in Juvenile Court of misdemeanor drunken driving that caused injury to another person and was placed on home probation. Her lawyer argued that F.H. wasn't driving the car and therefore couldn't have committed the crime, but the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco disagreed.
State law defines a driver as someone who has "physical control of a vehicle," said Presiding Justice James Marchiano in the 3-0 ruling. By grabbing the wheel and causing the car to change direction, he said, F.H. "displaced the driver's control and operation of the vehicle and made herself the driver."
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2011
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Court upholds drunk driving for teen passenger