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Drunk driving is taken seriously by police and prosecutors across the country. That said, out of all fifty states, Arizona DUI laws are among the strictest. However, the punishments for DUI crimes are not always easy to understand. At the same time, it is only when someone truly understands what they could be facing that they can make a fully-informed decision on how to handle their case.

In Arizona, not all DUI offenses are created equal.

  • DUI – A DUI offense is the most basic version of an Arizona drunk driving crime. Someone can be found guilty of a DUI if they are driving a car with a blood-alcohol content between .08 and .14.
  • Extreme DUI – Someone can be found guilty of an Extreme DUI If they operating a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol content of .15 or more.
  • Aggravated DUI – An aggravated DUI results when someone is driving under the influence (with a blood-alcohol content of .08 or more) under one of the following circumstances:
    1. Driving on a suspended or revoked license;
    2. Having committed two prior DUIs in the past seven years;
    3. Driving with a passenger under the age of 15 years old; or
    4. Refusing to submit to a breath sample (for those ordered to have an ignition interlock on their vehicle).

So, even a driver who is arrested for a DUI for the first time may face any of these charges. Like most other states, Arizona law provides for escalating punishments for those who are convicted of repeat DUI offenses.

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One of the elements that the prosecution must prove in an Arizona DUI charge is that the driver was in actual physical control of a vehicle. If the prosecution cannot establish this fact, then the defendant must be found not guilty. However, courts define “actual physical control” quite broadly, as illustrated in a recent appellate decision.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s parents called police after they noticed that their new truck was missing. They told the police that their son, the defendant, had been drunk earlier in the day, and that they believed he stole their truck and drove it while under the influence. Because the defendant had a prior DUI, he was required to have an ignition interlock installed on any vehicle he drove.

Not long after speaking with the defendant’s parents, police officers located the truck with the defendant asleep inside. The truck’s lights were on, but the engine was off, and the keys were not in the ignition. Police woke the defendant up, who told them that the keys were “where they were supposed to be.” However, the defendant did not elaborate, and the officers never found the keys.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona DUI case affirming the defendant’s conviction. The case involved the defendant’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence presented by the prosecution and used by the jury to convict him. Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence was sufficient, and the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer noticed that the defendant’s car had a burnt-out headlight and a crooked license plate. The officer pulled the defendant over and, upon approaching the car, noticed that the defendant had bloodshot, watery eyes, groggy speech, and seemed lethargic. When asked for his driver’s license, the defendant provided the officer with an Arizona ID card. At this point, the officer noticed that the defendant had a medical marijuana card.

The officer asked the defendant if there was marijuana in the car, and the defendant indicated there was. According to the officer, the defendant admitted to smoking marijuana earlier that day. The defendant agreed to perform field sobriety tests, but expressed concern that the bullet in his hip could impact his ability to perform the tests. After the trooper determined that the defendant exhibited signs of impairment while performing the tests, the officer arrested the defendant for driving under the influence of marijuana.

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For those facing Arizona DUI charges, it is crucial to understand what they are up against before deciding how to proceed. An Arizona DUI conviction can carry severe penalties, including jail time. These penalties can increase significantly based on the existence of certain aggravating factors. The following article provides an overview of the potential short-term and long-term legal consequences of a DUI conviction.

First DUI Offense

As with every other state, it is unlawful for an individual under the influence of a controlled substance (i.e., alcohol or drugs) to operate a vehicle in Arizona. To determine whether someone suspected of a DUI is actually under the influence, law enforcement will test his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Generally, if a driver’s BAC is measured at 0.08 or greater, they are considered to be guilty of driving under the influence. However, if the driver is under the age of 21, they may be found guilty of a DUI if there is any alcohol in their system.

If convicted, a first time DUI offender faces a penalty of at least ten days in jail, and a fine of no less than $1,250. In addition, the driver will have their driving privileges suspended for 90-days. To have driving privileges reinstated, the driver may have to undergo alcohol screening, education and treatment plans, and have their vehicle equipped with a certified ignition interlock device. On top of that, a person may also be required to perform community service. This may sound severe, but keep in mind that this is only for a first-time offense with no aggravating circumstances.

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Law enforcement typically steps up their enforcement of Arizona DUI arrests over long holiday weekends. However, according to a recent news report, there was a decrease in the total number of drunk driving arrests in Arizona over the July 4th weekend. Evidently, between July 3 and 5, Arizona law enforcement officers stopped over 5,200 motorists and arrested 193 people on suspicion of drunk driving. Of those arrests, 51 were for extreme DUI, meaning the driver’s blood-alcohol content was over .15. The legal limit in Arizona is .08. In addition, officers arrested 65 people on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs.

In previous years, the number of Arizona DUI arrests was significantly higher. For example, in 2019, law enforcement officers stopped over 15,00 motorists, arresting over 5,200 for DUI-related offenses. The consensus is that fewer people ventured out this year due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. However, opinions differ as to the extent to which the rate of drunk driving increases over holiday weekends. Some claim that most of the increase in DUI arrests is due to law enforcement’s aggressive enforcement measures.

Things to Keep in Mind When Getting Pulled Over

Seeing the dreaded blue-and-red lights in the rear-view mirror is a fear almost all motorists have. However, these fears are heightened when someone is pulled over at night, over a holiday weekend, or after having one or two drinks.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case discussing whether the arresting police officer was justified in removing the defendant from the vehicle to perform several field sobriety tests. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s challenges to the traffic stop and affirmed his conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, at around 2 a.m., an officer was on patrol in an area that was known as a road used by drunk drivers. The officer noticed the defendant pass by, traveling about 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. The officer noted no other traffic infraction.

When the officer approached the vehicle, he noticed the defendant’s eyes were watery and bloodshot, and the car smelled of alcohol. The defendant admitted to having something to drink, but explained that he was not feeling the effects of the alcohol. The defendant understood all the officer’s questions and responded in a clear manner. However, the officer then performed a horizontal nystagmus test to determine if the defendant was intoxicated or tired.

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It is a well-known fact that there are more Arizona DUI arrests over long holiday weekends because law enforcement officers believe that there will be more drunk drivers on the road. However, some weekends result in more DUI arrests than others. According to a recent report, instances of intoxicated driving are much more common over the following holidays:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Fourth of July

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case involving a defendant’s claim that the trooper who pulled him over lacked reasonable suspicion to do so. The defendant’s argument was based on the fact that, at the time of his arrest, the trooper was under investigation for providing false and misleading information on official paperwork. Ultimately, however, the appellate court concluded that the lower court’s decision to deny the motion should be upheld.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a trooper pulled over the defendant for following another vehicle too closely. Upon observing the defendant, the trooper believed the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and requested he consent to a blood draw. The defendant denied the request, and the trooper then obtained a warrant to draw the defendant’s blood. Ultimately, the defendant was arrested for DUI.

In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant presented evidence showing that the trooper who arrested him resigned during an investigation into alleged misconduct during the trooper’s DUI arrests. Evidently, the trooper faced allegations that he “arrested suspects without probable cause and filed reports containing false information.” The defendant also presented evidence that the trooper included the wrong date and time on the paperwork he generated related to the defendant’s arrest. The defendant argued that these facts, viewed together, cast doubt on the reliability of what the trooper claimed he observed.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion affirming a trial court’s decision to grant a defendant’s motion to suppress in an Arizona DUI case. The case required the court to review the state’s claim that reasonable suspicion supported the traffic stop. After viewing dashcam footage from the officer’s vehicle, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion. The appellate court affirmed.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant was driving shortly after 2 a.m. when he was pulled over by a police officer, who claimed that the defendant did not come to a complete stop at a stop sign. During the stop, the officer observed evidence suggesting the defendant was intoxicated, and the defendant was ultimately arrested and charged with DUI.

In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant showed the dashcam footage from the officer’s vehicle, arguing that he came to a complete stop and that there was no basis for the traffic stop. The prosecution argued that the dashcam footage was not a good representation of the officer’s perspective, and that, according to the officer, the defendant admitted he should have come to a complete stop sooner than he did. The defendant did not acknowledge making that statement, and it could not be heard on the video. The prosecution told the judge that the officer was available to testify, but he was not called by the prosecution.

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To prevent against the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it has come to be known, Governor Ducey signed an executive order requiring schools close, many businesses close, and residents stay inside their homes except for certain specified reasons. The Governor’s order, referred to as “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected,” went into effect on March 30, and is scheduled to end on April 30. As of April 25, 2020, the Governor has not made any indication as to whether the order will be extended. However, for weeks now, people across Arizona have been required – for the most part – to stay at home. Not surprisingly, the stay-at-home order has had the unintended effect of significantly reducing the number of Arizona DUI arrests.

According to a recent news report, from January to April of last year, there were a total of 7,500 Arizona DUI arrests. However, for that same period during 2020, the number of DUI arrests dropped nearly 33 percent to just over 5,000. Not only that, but serious traffic accidents that require an investigation have dropped by more than 75 percent, according to the Arizona State Police.

Of course, the reduction in Arizona drunk driving arrests does not necessarily mean that there is a lack of enforcement or that law enforcement officers are cutting drivers a break. Rather, most attribute the reduction to the fact that bars and restaurants are closed and that there are fewer people on the road. Also, people are required to follow social distancing protocol, so even drinking in social settings has significantly decreased.

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