If you drink or take drugs (either legal or illegal), you shouldn't drive. In Arizona, if you are over 21, it is not illegal to drive after drinking. However, driving after drinking an unknown amount of alcohol is illegal. Since it is next to impossible to figure out what that unknown amount is, it's best not to take the chance.
If you do make the mistake of drinking and driving in Arizona, and if you are pulled over by an Arizona law enforcement officer, then this article will give an extremely brief overview as to what you should generally expect and what you should generally do. The steps mentioned here were based on 2015 laws and processes, so use this merely as a guide. For help on an individual case, you need to consult with an attorney.
Arizona laws pertaining to Driving Under the Influence are specified in Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 28, Chapter 4, beginning with Article 28-1301.
The DUI Stop
You can be stopped for DUI in a variety of ways. The most common are:
- an officer stops you for some type of traffic infraction (or perceived traffic infraction) such as speeding, weaving, or failure to yield.
- an officer responds to an accident scene where he does not necessarily witness you driving.
Either way, just about every DUI police report will begin with the Officer's observations of signs of alcohol ingestion, such as the odor of alcohol and bloodshot, watery eyes. Notwithstanding the fact that these are signs only indicative of ingestion, not necessarily impairment, the Officer will use this as a basis for "further investigation."
"Further Investigation" in this context means asking you to step out of your car and perform field sobriety tests. The Officer will pay close attention to how you exit the car, the manner in which you provide him with your driver's license, registration and insurance and the manner of your speech. Then the Officer will ask you to do Field Sobriety Tests. Depending on what the Officer observes and his suspicions, he will place you under arrest for DUI.
Stopped for DUI. How do you respond?
First, and most importantly, be courteous. Don't try to bargain your way out of this. Be respectful. Second, ask for a private place to speak to an attorney. The Officer probably will not allow you to speak to one immediately, however, he should ultimately honor your request.
Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)
An Officer may see that you passed the Field Sobriety Tests, but arrests you anyway. The reason for this is simple. Once the Officer stops your vehicle for some reason, for example, weaving, and then observes the odor of alcohol and bloodshot, watery eyes, he's already made up his mind what type of case this is. Everything after that is merely a procedure for gathering additional evidence of guilt, not a process to prove your innocence. Field Sobriety Tests themselves are merely coordination tests that are difficult to pass even under the most optimal of conditions.
Therefore, there may not be any value in agreeing to perform the FSTs. You may politely decline. The Officer will probably arrest you anyway.
Allow the Blood Test?
Once placed under arrest, you will be given some type of test to determine alcohol concentration. Typically this test is a blood test. The results usually take a few weeks. If you refuse the test, the general procedure is for the Officer to obtain a search warrant from a judge to allow him to forcibly take your blood. One way or another, they will get the test. If you refuse the blood test, regardless of the outcome of the criminal case, your license may be suspended for a long time. You should probably take the blood test.
Results of the DUI Blood Test
If the results of the blood test are greater than a .08, then Arizona MVD will send a written notice (via regular mail to your last address on file at MVD) that your license will be suspended. You may, after part of that suspension period, be allowed to drive to and from work, school, or counseling.
Hearings and Suspensions
You may request a civil hearing which, at worst, can delay the start of the suspension, and, at best, may void the suspension and/or possibly obtain helpful, under oath, statements from the arresting officers. The only downside to requesting a hearing relates to the timing of the suspension. Would it be easier for you to serve your suspension earlier rather than later? If that's the case, then perhaps declining a hearing is your better choice, since it often takes more than a month to get an MVD hearing.
If you request a hearing because you believe you have a chance of having the case dismissed, please be aware that it is rare; when these hearings are held, the suspensions are generally upheld. So what's the advantage? You can have more time to prepare for the suspension and your attorney can get a sneak peek at the Officer's case against you.
If your blood test reading is less than a .08, then there is no suspension unless you're ultimately convicted of the DUI in criminal court (yes, it is possible to be convicted of DUI with readings less than a .08). Note, that if you already served your suspension, you will not have to serve another suspension if you are convicted of the DUI. It's a one-time suspension.
DUI and Arizona Courts
Misdemeanor DUIs are generally prosecuted in Municipal Courts or Justice Courts in Arizona. Generally, Superior Court handles felony DUIs. Regardless of whether your case is a felony or a misdemeanor, no one should make any decision as to how to proceed on a DUI case without the advice/guidance of an experienced attorney. If you are indigent, you will qualify for a public defender.
Your defense lawyer will review the evidence against you and advise you accordingly. Sometimes it is better to agree to a plea instead of going to trial. Sometimes it is better to go to trial. It depends on your case. If you go to trial, you have the right to a jury trial. You can also waive a jury and just try your case to the judge. Again, which option is best depends on your case and the judge.
DUI Sentencing and Mandatory Jail Time in Arizona
If you are convicted of DUI in Arizona you will go to jail. It is mandatory. The amount of jail depends on your alcohol concentration, your prior criminal history (particularly DUI history), as well as the circumstances of your case. For a first offense, the minimum amount of jail is 24 hours. Higher than minimum DUI readings will result in longer jail sentences, possibly 45 days or more.
As you can well imagine, if it's not your first offense, then the penalties grow exponentially. The jail time is mandatorily enhanced if you have a prior DUI.
In addition to the jail time, there are mandatory fines in Arizona which also depend on alcohol concentration and prior DUI history. Alcohol classes will be ordered. You will be required to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
2012 Law Changes in Arizona
Arizona has some of the harshest DUI laws in the country. However, several changes to the DUI sentencing scheme make it possible to serve less jail time than the offender would have served prior to January 1, 2012.
- The mandatory minimum for a regular DUI is the same. Under the old law, the minimum was explicitly listed as 24 hours in jail. Since 2012, the minimum explicitly states one day instead of 24 hours. In practice, less than 24 hours has been interpreted to mean "1 day." It is important to ask your lawyer how, or if, this affects your case.
- Ignition Interlock Devices attach to a car. Before the car will start, the driver has to blow into a tube. If the reading is a .000, then the car will start. If not, it may not. Reports of these alcohol blows are uploaded to a server and stored. If convicted of an extreme DUI (greater than .15 alcohol concentration), the defendant only has to serve nine days in jail if he equips his vehicle with an ignition interlock device. For super extreme DUI defendants, (alcohol concentration greater than a .20), instead of a 45-day initial jail term, if the defendant installs an ignition interlock device, then he can be released after 14 days in jail.
- For those sentenced to extreme DUI or super extreme DUI, their time in jail can be significantly decreased if approved for home detention. It is also possible in some cases to combine the two statutes (the ignition interlock law and the home detention law). It remains, however, a complicated enough issue that you should never dive into this without the assistance of an experienced DUI attorney.
DUI in Arizona - The Bottom Line
If you drink, don't drive. But if you do, know your rights. Be respectful to the Officer. Ask to speak to a lawyer in private. Decline the Field Sobriety Tests. Once placed under arrest, agree to the blood test. Request an MVD hearing if your reading is too high. Finally, DO NOT go through this alone. Either hire an attorney experienced in these matters or apply for a public defender.
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.