Permitting an Intoxicated Driver to Drive: Potential Criminal and Civil Liability

A third party who seeks to take custody of an arrested intoxicated driver after he or she has been processed by the police is required to acknowledge the potential civil and criminal liability associated with permitting the intoxicated person to drive. The law enforcement agency releasing the intoxicated driver into the third party’s custody must provide the third party with a written notice of the civil and criminal penalties for knowingly permitting an intoxicated driver to operate a motor vehicle. There is no requirement that the third person sign the written notice as a condition of the intoxicated driver’s release. The warning drafted by the attorney general admonishes the person who volunteers to transport the intoxicated driver from police custody that he or she would be potentially liable for criminal sanctions and civil liability by permitting the operation of a motor vehicle by the intoxicated defendant.

The attorney general’s warning refers to the “allowing” offenses under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) and mentions the license loss, fines, monetary penalties and possible incarceration associated with that offense. There are also vague references in the warning to criminal prosecution in the event the person taking responsibility for the defendant permits or facilitates the defendant’s operation of a motor vehicle while still intoxicated. If such a defendant were to become involved in an accident where other persons are injured or killed, the person who took responsibility for the intoxicated driver could be subject to indictment, prosecution, fines, mandatory sentences, and prison time. Finally, the warning advises that permitting an intoxicated defendant to operate a motor vehicle may result in civil liability in the event of an accident resulting in death, personal injury, or property damage.

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