Driving Under the Influence in Arizona

Policeman performing sobriety test on driver
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  • 01 of 08

    DUI in Arizona: The Stop and the Beginning of the Process

    If you are one of the unfortunate many, and have been stopped by law enforcement for DUI, the question becomes what happens next? This article discusses what you can expect if you are accused of driving under the influence.

    The first thing that happens when you are stopped for suspected DUI is that the officer will ask you for your license, registration and insurance. The officer will take note as to how you obtain those items. For example, impaired drivers will often flip through their wallet and pass over their driver’s license several times before taking out their driver’s license. More importantly, the officer will be on the lookout for the odor of alcohol. Breath mints or mouthwash will not mask this odor. The officer will also look for bloodshot, watery eyes and listen for slurred speech.

    If he detects those clues, then he will ask you whether you have been drinking. Please know that he only seeks confirmation of what he already suspects. A typical answer is a “couple of beers.”...MORE Some say that they have had nothing to drink. Regardless of the answer, the officer will most likely ask you to get out of the car. In fact, if the officer detects the odor of alcohol, watery eyes, etc. due diligence requires that he, at least, ask you to get out of the car. The officer will observe how you exit the vehicle since impaired drivers often (but not always) have trouble simply exiting the vehicle.

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  • 02 of 08

    The DUI Stop - When You Are Out of the Vehicle

    The officer will conduct the Field Sobriety Test or FSTs. These are standardized tests that are said to be effective in detecting alcohol or drug impaired drivers. With the exception of the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (an eye test where the officer looks for an involuntary jerking of the subject’s eyes) they are nothing more than coordination tests. 

    The fact is there is no requirement in Arizona law that you have to submit to FSTs. In some cases the client may pass the tests, but is arrested anyway. The arrestee will think that he did perfectly on the test only to subsequently find out that the officer marked several performance errors. The value to you to submit to these Field Sobriety Tests is questionable.

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  • 03 of 08

    DUI Arrest and Questioning

    After the FST portion, the subject is often placed under arrest. The officer will handcuff your hands behind your back. Part of the reason for that is for officer safety, but the other reason is to ensure that the subject does not place anything in his/her mouth. Placing foreign objects into the mouth (or vomiting or regurgitating) prior to the breath test will render said breath test unreliable. The well-trained officer will seek to ensure that nothing is in the subject’s mouth and that the subject does not vomit.

    The person is then either taken to the precinct or to a mobile DUI van for the breath test. Once at the DUI processing site, the officer will ask some questions. If the right to remain silent or the right to speak to an attorney is invoked, then all questioning must cease. In this phase, if no such right is invoked, then the officer has a list of pre-printed questions that he will ask. Your answers are then written down or typed (verbatim where possible). A particularly...MORE tricky question that the officer asks is “On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being completely sober and 10 completely drunk, how would you rate yourself at the time of driving?” Since Arizona law does not require you to be drunk to be cited for DUI, only impaired to the slightest degree, any answer that is not 0 will be considered an admission of impairment later at a DUI trial. No answer that you give will get you out of the DUI arrest.

    This emphasizes the importance of invoking your right to remain silent and requesting an attorney call in private. You can read more about that in detail here.

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  • 04 of 08

    Arizona DUI Breath or Blood Test

    A breath or blood test will be administered. What if you refuse? Refusing either test is not recommended. Unlike the Field Sobriety Tests, which are administered prior to the time a subject is placed under arrest, there is an Arizona requirement that everybody who gets behind the wheel of a car must submit to a blood, breath or urine test to determine alcohol and/or drug impairment. Which test is administered is left to the discretion of the arresting officer. While you might refuse FSTs, the alcohol test should not be refused for at least three reasons.

    1. A refusal will result in an automatic suspension of your driver’s license regardless of whether or not you ultimately win your DUI case.
    2. Prosecutors are allowed to argue to a jury that your refusal is strong evidence that you had something to hide, and thus, the refusal is strong evidence of your guilt.
    3. The officers routinely will get a telephonic search warrant signed off by a judge. At that point, they can forcibly take your blood. So,...MORE in the end, your refusal will most likely be ineffectual anyway. They will test you, involuntarily, if they choose to do so.
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  • 05 of 08

    The DUI Arrest - The End of This Phase

    After the test is administered, the majority of arrestees are picked up by a totally sober (nothing to drink) friend or by a cab. However, some are booked into jail. Subjects are booked for a variety of reasons ranging from aggravated conduct with the arresting officer, no identification, active warrants, etc.

    What happens to your license at this point? As mentioned above, if you refuse the test, your license will be suspended for 12 months regardless of whether or not you are actually convicted of the DUI. If you submit to the test and your alcohol concentration is greater than a .08, then you will be subject to license suspension, some of which may be total (no driving at all) and, in many cases, some are a restricted license where you can go to and from work, school, and counseling. Because of the volume of blood tests being administered, the results are not immediately available, and so it is becoming increasingly common that the DUI suspect will receive a notice in the mail from...MORE MVD notifying them that his results are above a .08 and that his license will be suspended for 90 days.

    If the reading is below a .08, then there is no license suspension prior to conviction. If you receive either the refusal suspension or the .08 suspension, that suspension does not go into effect until a period of time after the suspension notice is served. Within that time, the suspect should request a MVD hearing (or if a private attorney is retained, the attorney will generally request that this hearing be conducted). The hearing will be set in about a month or two. During this time, the suspect’s license is not suspended while the hearing process is pending.

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  • 06 of 08

    If You Are Licensed to Drive in Another State

    There is no material difference with regards to the DUI process in general, or the license suspension in particular, for people with out-of-state driver licenses who are driving here. The long and short of it is that so long as you drive in Arizona, you are subject to the Arizona law. You will have to go to court in Arizona. If suspensions are issued, they apply to driving in Arizona. Pursuant to the Interstate Driver's License Compact, DUI suspension information is supposed to be shared between states (there are actually a few states that do not participate in this program). Once that information is shared, is up to the state in which you are licensed as to what consequences, if any, it would impose. Generally, there will be some type of reciprocal license consequence. The suspect’s license will most likely, though not definitely, be suspended in his home state, as a result of a DUI arrest or conviction in Arizona.

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  • 07 of 08

    Planning Your DUI Defense

    Once all of the arrest procedures are completed, it is of utmost importance that you start to strategize how you will fight the case. The arrestee has three options, only one of which is unacceptable.

    1. hire a private attorney.
    2. wait to speak to your public defender if you financially qualify. You will most likely not be able to meet with your public defender until at least the arraignment, but more typically, not until the first pretrial conference which is usually about 30 to 45 days after the arrest.
    3. decide to handle it alone without any legal counsel.

    DUI is an extremely complicated fact specific type of criminal case. Anyone charged with DUI should consult with an attorney (whether court appointed or privately retained). Even cases where you know you were drunk are potentially “winnable” cases. It simply depends on the facts. Did the officer follow both constitutional and scientific proper procedures? Was the alcohol testing equipment functionally properly and accurately? Were you, in...MORE fact, impaired to the slightest degree? It all depends, and a DUI defense lawyer knows what to look for. A DUI defendant is doing himself a great disservice if he does not, at least, consult with a DUI lawyer prior to deciding whether to fight the case or accept a plea offer from the State of Arizona.

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  • 08 of 08

    The Best Strategy For DUI

    As you can imagine, the DUI process is not a pleasant one, especially for the DUI suspect. The best advice is to avoid being vulnerable to this situation by avoiding drinking and driving altogether. DUI is so tricky for the driver since no one, least of all the driver, can pinpoint with any degree of exactitude that point at which you are impaired to the slightest degree. Also, if you are actually not impaired, even to the slightest degree, that would not necessarily stop the officer from pulling you over for some reason and charging you with DUI anyway. You would then be forced to undergo the aggravation that is the DUI criminal justice system.

    The best strategy is to not drink at all if you drive. However, if you are unfortunate enough to be accused of DUI, it is important to know your rights as well as to have a rough idea as to what to expect.

    Note: DUI specific content last updated January 2009. No two legal cases are the same. Your personal experience may vary from the general...MORE process outlined here. All details about Arizona DUI laws mentioned here are subject to change without notice. Consult an attorney if you need current information about DUI processes or sentencing.