James Novak Banner
Justia Lawyer Rating for James Novak

Expert testimony is often necessary in Arizona DUI cases. Therefore, understanding the use and limits of expert testimony is essential. In a recent Arizona DUI case, an appellate court considered whether the trial court exceeded its authority in limiting expert testimony.

According to the court’s decision, the defendant was driving in Tucson, when his car crossed into the median, which was lined with palm trees. The defendant’s car crashed into a tree, and three passengers died, one of whom was pregnant. The defendant was also taken to the hospital, and a blood test showed that he had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .180. The defendant was charged with multiple counts of DUI, manslaughter, and negligent homicide.

At trial, the defendant argued that the roadway was defective, and that the roadway’s design caused the crash. The jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to a total of 16.5 years in prison. On appeal, the defendant argued that he did not receive a fair trial, in part because the court excluded testimony from his expert witnesses. He argued that most of his expert’s testimony was improperly precluded.

In a recent case, an Arizona court of appeals held that an Arizona DUI sentence should stand because the court’s correction of the unlawful sentence was made too late. According to the court’s opinion, in 2016, the defendant was convicted of aggravated driving under the influence and aggravated driving with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08 or higher. The case was reset for sentencing, but before the defendant was sentenced, he moved to designate a prior conviction as a misdemeanor, which the state granted. The state then moved for reconsideration, and the court denied reconsideration. On September 15, 2017, the court sentenced the defendant. It imposed a sentence of one year in prison.

The state then moved to correct the defendant’s sentence under Rule 24.3 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure (“Rule 24.3). It argued that the defendant’s prior conviction was a felony at the time he committed the DUI, and therefore, the court should have sentenced him more harshly. In On December 1, 2017, the court granted the state’s motion, finding that the original sentence was inappropriate under an applicable statute, and re-sentenced the defendant to a presumptive term of imprisonment of 2.5 years. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court could not re-sentence him under Rule 24.3.

Under the current version of Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure 24.3, a court can correct an unlawful sentence or a sentence imposed in an unlawful manner within 60 days of the entry of judgment of the sentence, or within 15 days of the appellate clerk distributing a notice under Rule 31.9(e) that a record on appeal has been filed. At the time of the defendant’s sentence, the rule stated simply that a court could “correct any unlawful sentence or one imposed in an unlawful manner within 60 days of the entry of judgment and sentence but before the defendant’s appeal, if any, is perfected.”

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona DUI case discussing the elements of an aggravated DUI under Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) section 28-1383(A)(3). Ultimately, the court determined that the prosecution established evidence of each element, and affirmed the jury’s guilty verdict.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was driving a 14-year-old girl home from a party when he was involved in a car accident. Evidently, the defendant did not know the girl very well, and was unaware of her age. When police arrived on the scene, they found a bottle of pills inside the vehicle, and the defendant admitted that he had smoked marijuana earlier that day.

The defendant was arrested and charged under A.R.S. section 28-1383(A)(3), which makes it an aggravated DUI to operate a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol while carrying a passenger less than 15 years of age. The defendant requested the trial court instruct the jury that he could not be found guilty unless the prosecution proved the defendant knew the girl was under 15 years of age. The court rejected the defendant’s request and the jury convicted the defendant of aggravated DUI. The defendant appealed.

The issue of implied consent has been a hot topic in courts across the United States since the Supreme Court decided Birchfield v. North Dakota, which allowed warrantless breath tests to be conducted (but disallowed warrantless blood tests). In its most recent Arizona DUI opinion, the Arizona Supreme Court discussed whether Arizona’s implied-consent statute requires that an arrestee’s consent to test be voluntary. The court held that there is no voluntariness requirement.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence. The police officer who stopped the defendant read her the standard warnings, stating:

Arizona law states that a person who operates a motor vehicle at any time in this state gives consent to a test or tests of blood, breath, urine … If you refuse, or do not expressly agree to submit to, or do not successfully complete the tests, your Arizona driving privilege will be suspended. … Will you submit to the tests?

Continue reading

A few posts ago, we discussed Arizona’s implied consent statute, which provides that anyone who operates a vehicle on a public road implicitly consents to chemical testing if police suspect they are under the influence. In the post, we also discussed that while motorists have no legal basis for refusing a test, they cannot be physically forced to undergo chemical testing.

Recently, the Arizona Supreme Court issued an opinion in an Arizona DUI case discussing whether a defendant’s consent to allow chemical testing of his blood was coerced, and thus invalid under the Fourth Amendment. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer did not coerce the defendant’s consent by explaining to the defendant that his license would be suspended for 12 months if he refused testing.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence. After the defendant was arrested, the arresting officer requested the defendant consent to a blood draw. During that request, the officer explained that “Arizona law states that a person who operates a motor vehicle … gives consent to a test … for the purpose of determining alcohol concentration or drug content.” The officer also explained that “If you refuse, do not expressly agree to submit to, or do not successfully complete the tests, your Arizona driving privilege will be suspended.”

Continue reading

The most common type of chemical test performed by police in Arizona DUI cases is breath testing. Breath testing measures the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath and converts the figure to blood-alcohol content. Police prefer breath testing in many cases because it is faster and less expensive than blood or urine testing.

Practically speaking, absent physical coercion, breath testing cannot be performed without a driver’s consent. However, under Arizona’s implied consent statute, any motorist who “operates a motor vehicle in this state gives consent … to tests of the person’s blood, breath, urine or other bodily substance for the purpose of determining alcohol concentration or drug content” if they are arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Thus, while a motorist can physically refuse to provide a sample, they do not have the legal right to do so. Of course, to rely on the implied consent statute, police must provide a defendant with their rights and the consequences of refusal.

What Happens When Police Don’t Follow the Law?

Generally speaking, when police obtain evidence obtained through improper, illegal, or unconstitutional means, that evidence must be suppressed. This concept is referred to as the exclusionary rule, and is a judicially-created doctrine to deter improper police conduct. Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has held that when a defendant’s blood was taken without a warrant or his consent, the blood-test results were inadmissible. The Court based its holding on the inherent privacy interest a person has in their blood and the intrusive means of obtaining a blood sample. However, in a subsequent case, the Court distinguished between taking a defendant’s blood and using a breath sample. This left an open question regarding the admissibility of breath-test evidence that was obtained in violation of the implied consent statute.

Continue reading

Police officers have an interest in removing intoxicated drivers from the road. However, in trying to locate and arrest potentially drunk drivers, police officers must respect the rights of all motorists. Thus, police officers can only stop a vehicle under certain circumstances. For the most part, an officer must observe some indicia of dangerous driving or intoxication to stop a vehicle for suspicion of DUI.

A DUI checkpoint would seem to be contrary to this general rule. However, Arizona DUI checkpoints have been held to be legal if they are properly conducted. For example, courts have held that a checkpoint must be “carried out pursuant to a plan embodying explicit, neutral limitations on the conduct of individual officers.” One reason for this is that police could easily use a checkpoint as a pretext for racially motivated traffic stops. Thus, by removing the discretion from individual officers, courts believe that it is less likely an officer’s personal biases will affect whether a motorist is stopped.

What Are a Motorists’ Rights in a DUI Checkpoint?

When a motorist is stopped at a DUI checkpoint, an officer will approach the vehicle and begin to ask the driver questions. Generally, a motorist will be asked to provide the police officer with his driver’s license. It is important to remember that motorists do not need to engage in conversation with police officers, other than to provide necessary information. A motorist’s decision not to speak with an officer cannot be used as evidence of intoxication; however, by refusing to talk with an officer, the officer may become suspicious and decide to investigate further.

Continue reading

Arizona police and lawmakers take the issue of driving under the influence (DUI) very seriously. Indeed, according to a recent news source, Arizona Police claim that there were nearly 27,000 Arizona DUI arrests in 2018. That figure has remained relatively constant over the past several years, ever since police stepped up enforcement of DUIs, especially over the holidays.

In Arizona, a DUI conviction carries serious consequences including the punishments doled out by the state, but also in terms of the collateral consequences that come along with a conviction. Thus, it is important to clear up the common misconception that an Arizona DUI case cannot be fought. In fact, there are several ways that an experienced Arizona DUI defense attorney can help a client beat their DUI case.

Motions to Suppress

If evidence that the state plans to use against a defendant was obtained in an unlawful manner, the defendant can file a motion to suppress that evidence. If the motion is granted, then the prosecution will be precluded from using the evidence. In many Arizona DUI cases, this leaves the prosecution with little evidence that a motorist was under the influence and may result in the withdrawal of a case.

Continue reading

Most drivers are aware that the blood-alcohol limit in Arizona is .08 for adults. Indeed, the .08 limit has been the federal standard for intoxication since 1996, when Congress mandated all states decrease their limits to .08 or risk a loss of federal highway funding. Since then, states have maintained the .08 limit. However, just last month neighboring Utah was the first state to implement a lower limit of just .05. It remains to be seen if other states will follow suit or if Utah will remain an anomaly.

When it comes to underage motorists, many states, including Arizona, have implemented zero-tolerance or not-a-drop laws. Under Arizona DUI law, anyone under the age of 21 is prohibited from operating a motor vehicle when there is “any spirituous liquor in the person’s body.” Thus, unlike an adult, a minor can be arrested and charged with an Arizona DUI if there is any amount of alcohol in their system, even if the minor is not intoxicated or under the influence of the substance. Of course, because no motorist is permitted to drive under the influence of illegal drugs, minors and adults alike can be found guilty of DUI if they have illegal drugs in their system.

19-Year-Old Arrested and Charged with DUI Offenses after Fatal Accident

Last week, a 19-year-old driver and his three passengers were involved in a serious accident with a semi-truck in Avondale. According to a local news report, the collision occurred when the minor allegedly rear-ended the semi-truck that was in the process of making a left turn. The minor’s car became wedged underneath the truck.

Continue reading

Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, citizens are protected from “unreasonable” searches and seizures. This includes requiring a driver to take a blood or breath test. Over the years, courts have described what constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure. In general, police must have a search warrant in order to show that a search is reasonable. However, police can conduct a search under certain limited circumstances without a warrant.

Clearly, police officers are not able to obtain a warrant when they witness someone commit a crime. Therefore, courts have determined that if a police officer has probable cause to believe that someone has broken the law, the officer can stop and arrest them.

Sometimes, however, police officers have a belief that a crime has been committed, but cannot be sure. In these situations, a police officer can stop a citizen, ask them questions, and conduct an investigation so long as they have reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. In order to justify this type of stop, an officer must be able to point to articulable facts supporting the officer’s belief that the person stopped was involved in criminal activity.

Continue reading

Contact Information