Answer: Yes, you can report a drunk driver anytime. That being said, the closer to the incident, the better for gathering evidence of a crime.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
Can You Report a Drunk Driver After The Fact? (Explained)
The contents of this web page are for informational purposes only, and nothing you read is intended to be legal advice. Please review our disclaimer about law/legal-related information on this website before taking action based upon anything you read or see.
There are several ways that law enforcement officers gather evidence of DUI, including:
- observing the activity with their own eyes while on patrol (most common)
- responding to a crash
- taking statements from witnesses observed the intoxication and driving as it happened at the location with their eyes
- taking statements from witnesses observed the intoxication and driving live but from a remote location (security camera)
- taking statements from witnesses observed the intoxication and driving after the fact by reviewing footage
- taking statements from witnesses who tattle on the offender (“I saw Jon drink and drive.”)
- taking statements from the offender himself during an interview, a set up phone call, etc
While most DUI offenders are caught in the act, there’s nothing that says they cannot be charged after the fact, even months later (aside from the applicable statute of limitations, explained below).
Given that DUI drivers represent a serious threat of harm to the community, officers will make responding to DUI reports a priority.
Sadly, sometimes there just aren’t enough law enforcement officers on duty to respond to every single 9-1-1 call, and sometimes the intoxicated driving isn’t even discovered until a later date.
Once law enforcement has finished their investigation, they’ll pack up everything and forward it to the prosecutor.
Reporting DUI After The Fact
The primary issue with investigating a DUI after the fact (perhaps days or even weeks after the fact) is that the primary first hand evidence of the driving and the intoxication is gone.
The investigating officers do not get to observe the driving.
There is no urinalysis, blood test, or breathalyzer result to offer to the jury.
Instead, the prosecution has to rely entirely upon the observations of the reporting witness or witnesses.
While some individuals have excellent memories and make for excellent witnesses, others do not.
This is why it is important for a witness to report the DUI as soon as possible, so that any evidence (including memories) can be gathered as soon as possible.
Further, today’s juries were raised on a diet of NCIS and other cop shows.
They expect physical evidence, and can sometimes undervalue witness accounts.
Should You Report a DUI After The Fact?
If an individual thinks that they have been a witness to a crime, they are welcome to take action and report it if they want to.
Keep in mind that the officer taking the report will want to know a lot of details about what was observed, as well as about you so that law enforcement can follow up (unless you are reporting anonymously).
The details will include:
- identifying details of the offender if you know then (name, location, phone number, age, appearance)
- Identifying details about the vehicle involved (make, model, color, license plate)
- where the incident occurred (state, county, city, street address)
- specifically what was observed
- whether any other evidence exists (witnesses, videos, audio, admissions by the offender
Once all the details are gathered, a report can be generated and forwarded to the prosecutor for a charging decision.
Will A DUI Get Charged Against The Offender?
It depends on whether or not the prosecutor thinks that he has enough evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt.
If he doesn’t think that he has enough, then the case will not go forward.
Will a Witness Get In Trouble For Reporting a DUI That Doesn’t Get Prosecuted?
If a witness reports what was truthfully observed, there should not be any criminal consequences for the witness.
But if the witness does not tell the truth in his report, if the witness is trying to use the report to harm the accused, or is otherwise abusing the system, then the witness could face criminal implications.
A witness could also leave themselves open to civil liability on the part of the wrongfully accused (defamation, libel, slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress).
Needless to say, one should not contact the police to report a DUI unless the witness actually has knowledge about the incident (and not just second hand hearsay he-said-she-said).
Statute of Limitations on DUI
While prosecution for DUI doesn’t always happen immediately, the police and government have limits for how long they can wait to pursue the case.
On the criminal side, there will be an applicable statute of limitations that limits the time frame to file.
DUI could be a civil infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony.
In some states, the statute of limitations is 3 months, while other states it is 24 months, or maybe even longer given the facts of the case.
While many DUIs get charged right away, they can be charged any time up until the applicable statute of limitations expires.
Want to learn more about your criminal justice system?
Browse our free legal library guides for more information.