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According to a recent news report, Arizona law enforcement agencies stepped up their DUI enforcement efforts over Halloween week in an attempt to curb the number of Arizona DUI cases. The statistics from the enforcement effort have not yet been released; however, last Halloween, there were a total of 364 Arizona DUI arrests made over the Halloween holiday. This figure was down significantly from 2017, in which there were 447 DUI arrests on Halloween.

In the recent article, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety encouraged everyone to have a good time, which, he acknowledged, may involve consuming alcohol. However, he urged those who drank alcohol to take an Uber, Lyft, or some other form of transportation rather than get behind the wheel.

The period beginning on Halloween and going through the New Year is a time when law enforcement is out in droves searching for those who are driving under the influence. While motorists are advised to arrange for alternate transportation when they have had too much to drink, it is also vital they understand their rights when there is an increased police presence on the road.

In Arizona, DUI law can be quite complicated. One reason for this is that there are several different Arizona DUI laws on the books, and the differences between each of the offenses is not necessarily apparent. Starting with the least serious, the most common drunk driving crimes in Arizona are as follows:

Misdemeanor DUI: Most first and second DUI offenses are considered misdemeanors under Arizona law. Typically, a misdemeanor DUI requires the prosecution to prove that a motorist’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) was at least 0.08%, or that they had a controlled substance in their system. However, DUI convictions can be sustained on evidence that a driver was “impaired to the slightest degree,” even without a blood or breath test. Even for a first-time DUI arrest, the consequences of a conviction can be severe, and typically include:

  • At least one day in jail;

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case affirming the defendant’s conviction. The case required the court to determine if police were required to obtain a warrant before taking the defendant’s blood. Ultimately, because the defendant gave his consent for the blood draw, the court determined that no warrant was necessary.

Consent is one of the primary ways that law enforcement officers are able to take a motorist’s blood. Under the state and federal constitutions, police officers need to have a warrant before they can conduct a “search” of a person. Courts have held that a blood draw constitutes a search, and thus, police officers need to obtain a warrant before taking a blood sample. However, no warrant is necessary if a motorist provides their consent to the blood draw. And given the administrative penalties associated with refusing to comply with a request for a blood draw, many motorists end up consenting to a blood test.

Providing consent to an Arizona blood draw can raise several issues. Most importantly, consent must be validly given to be effective. In other words, police cannot coerce a motorist into giving their consent by making threats. Additionally, even if a motorist gives consent, they are allowed to change their minds and revoke consent at any time. If consent is revoked, then the police officers must go through the proper channels to obtain a warrant. Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently issued some important decisions which made some significant changes to this area of the law.

Over the past decade, there has been a shift in society’s attitude towards marijuana. As a result, many states have legalized medical marijuana, decriminalized possession of a small amount of marijuana, and even legalized recreational use of marijuana. According to a recent news report, a 2020 ballot initiative in Arizona seeks to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Often, this raises questions about how Arizona DUI law will be impacted.

Under the new ballot initiative, recreational marijuana would be legalized for adults over the age of 21. The law would regulate where cannabis could be smoked, and also continues to make it illegal to operate a vehicle, boat, or airplane while “impaired even to the slightest degree.”

How the criminal justice system answers the question of when someone is “impaired” by marijuana is going to be critical to the fair enforcement of the state’s DUI laws. Even for a casual smoker, marijuana can stay in their system for weeks after use. However, any mind-altering effects of the drug wear off after just a few hours. Thus, it is possible that someone could smoke marijuana at night, get up to go to work, get pulled over on the way for an unrelated traffic offense, and be arrested for DUI. Certainly, this is not the intent of lawmakers who hoped to allow the responsible use of marijuana and only criminalize those who drive while actually impaired.

When a police officer pulls someone over for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the officer may perform field sobriety tests (FSTs) on the driver before administering a breath or blood test. Officers use field sobriety tests to determine, in their opinion, whether someone is intoxicated. If the officer believes that a driver is impaired, they will then likely conduct a blood or breath test. However, blood and breath tests require that the officer have probable cause to believe that the motorist is intoxicated. Thus, FSTs are a tool police officers use to develop probable cause. There are three common types of Arizona field sobriety tests, described below:

The One-Legged Stand Test: In this FST, an officer will instruct a driver to stand up straight while raising one foot about six inches off the ground. After a few seconds, the officer will then tell the motorist to place their foot back on the ground. The officer is looking for whether the driver loses their balance, uses their arms to keep themselves up, or fluctuates the height of their raised foot.

The Walk-and-Turn Test: For this FST, the officer asks the driver to take nine steps forward, heel-to-toe, before turning around and coming back the same way. This FST tests a motorist’s ability to follow instructions, as well as their balance. Aside from signs of imbalance, cues of intoxication include when drivers take the incorrect number of steps, are unable to negotiate the turn, or otherwise fail to follow the instructions.

The admissibility of blood-test evidence is currently a hot topic in DUI law, with the United States Supreme Court deciding three cases on the subject in the past few years. Often, the issue that comes up in these cases is whether the police officers were able to legally obtain a blood sample based on the surrounding circumstances. Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion illustrating police officers’ ability to obtain a blood sample that a nurse took from the defendant for medical purposes.

According to the court’s opinion, a state trooper stopped the defendant for following too closely and failing to stay within his lane. While the trooper was interacting with the defendant, he noticed a smell of alcohol on the defendant’s breath, and that the defendant’s eyes were bloodshot. When asked, the defendant admitted to having two drinks, and also that his license was in suspension.

The trooper asked the defendant to get out of the car and performed a series of field sobriety tests. Ultimately, the trooper concluded that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol and arrested him for DUI. Another trooper arrived on the scene, and the two discussed bringing the defendant into the station for a breath test. During this conversation, the defendant called for medical assistance because he was having a heart attack and a seizure.

In a recent decision from an Arizona appeals court, the court upheld a DUI conviction for an individual after the arresting officer’s death. The defendant was convicted of two counts of aggravated driving under the influence, two counts of aggravated driving with an illegal drug in his body, and possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana. He was sentenced to four months in prison and probation. The defendant argued that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the arresting officer could not testify against him after the officer’s death.

According to the court’s opinion, before the defendant was arrested, two sheriff’s officers, Deputy Davis and Deputy Gil, responded to a 911 call in Tucson and found the defendant in a stopped vehicle in the middle of the road, with the engine still running. The defendant was sleeping in the driver’s seat. Deputy Davis administered field sobriety tests, arrested the defendant, and obtained a telephonic search warrant to draw his blood. Testing showed that marijuana and oxycodone were present in the defendant’s blood.

Deputy Davis died before the defendant’s case went to trial, and Deputy Gil was the only officer to testify at the trial. While Deputy Gil was being questioned at trial, the prosecution asked her how she would administer the field sobriety tests (FSTs). Because Deputy Davis had administered the tests in this case, the defendant objected as to the relevance of Gil’s administration of FSTs. The court allowed her to demonstrate the walk-and-turn and one-leg stand FSTs despite the objection.

An Arizona appeals court recently affirmed a defendant’s DUI convictions in a DUI case involving the use of prescription drugs, that the defendant claimed were used as prescribed. According to the evidence presented at trial, the defendant was driving down a two-lane road one evening while speeding and passing other vehicles. At some point, the defendant lost control while passing two cars, and crashed into two motorcycles. At the scene, an officer asked the defendant to submit to a blood draw, and he agreed. His blood tested positive for lorazepam and methadone. The level of both drugs in the defendant’s blood were within the therapeutic range.

Lorazepam is a prescription drug, often used to treat anxiety. It can impair driving, by making a driver drowsy and slowing the driver’s reaction time, even when taken as prescribed. The defendant testified that he was prescribed lorazepam, and had taken it two days before the crash. Methadone is a narcotic, generally used to treat heroin addiction. It also can cause sleepiness and can slow reaction time, even when taken within the therapeutic range. The defendant took a dose of methadone at a clinic on the morning of the crash. There is also evidence that the combination of the two drugs can also compound their effects.

At the conclusion of the trial, the defendant was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault, two counts of criminal damage and two counts of driving under the influence. The defendant appealed his convictions and sentences. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence at trial did not support the DUI convictions, because, while he had both lorazepam and methadone in his body, he was using the drugs as prescribed.

The opinions of the United States Supreme Court are the law of the land and generally must be followed by all states. Often, the Supreme Court decides which cases to choose based on the issues that are presented in the case. Typically, the Court will select cases that raise legal questions that are unclear or not entirely settled due to incremental advancements in the law made by lower courts.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case, Mitchell v. Wisconsin, which discusses blood-draws from unconscious motorists who are suspected of being under the influence. The case is the third U.S. Supreme Court case in recent years to touch on this topic. However, because no five Justices could agree on a single basis for the opinion, technically, the decision is not binding on the lower courts and only impacts the defendant in this case. However, in reality, courts across the country will look to the plurality opinion for guidance.

The facts as the Court described them are as follows: police officers arrested the defendant under suspicion of driving under the influence. Officers took the defendant to the police station to administer a breath test; however, the defendant was too lethargic to complete the test. Because Wisconsin law provides that an unconscious motorist is not capable of withdrawing implied consent, an officer drove the defendant to a hospital for a blood draw. The results of the test indicated the defendant’s blood-alcohol content was over the legal limit, and he was arrested and charged with DUI.

In the vast majority of Arizona DUI cases, the applicable law that governs the case is that of the jurisdiction where the offense occurred. However, in very rare circumstances, another state’s laws may apply. This puts state courts in the difficult position of applying a foreign jurisdiction’s law. In a recent Arizona DUI case, the court explained why the defendant’s motion was properly denied under Nevada law by the trial court.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s vehicle swerved into oncoming traffic, colliding with another vehicle. The defendant suffered serious injuries in the accident. While police were investigating the accident, they noticed that the defendant smelled of alcohol. A helicopter took the defendant to a hospital in Nevada.

While in the hospital, Arizona law enforcement called the Nevada hospital and requested they draw the defendant’s blood. The requesting officer did not discuss whether a warrant was necessary, but later testified that he did not believe it was his responsibility to obtain a warrant. The hospital complied with the request without obtaining a warrant. At the time, the defendant was unconscious. The sample was given to a Nevada law enforcement officer. The test results revealed that the defendant had a blood-alcohol content of .21, well over the legal limit of .08.

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