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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona drug case involving allegations that the defendant possessed methamphetamine with the intent to deliver. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss whether the results of a blood test that was administered to the defendant on the day of her arrest were admissible. The court concluded that they were.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was pulled over after a police officer noticed that the car the defendant was driving did not have a temporary registration tag displayed. During the traffic stop, the officer noticed that the defendant exhibited signs of intoxication. The defendant was placed under arrest for driving under the influence.

After the defendant’s arrest, the officer conducted an inventory search of the car, which was registered to the defendant’s sister. During the search, the officer located an eyeglasses case inside a coat pocket. Inside the eyeglasses cases was a pipe and some methamphetamine. The defendant was taken into the police station, and her blood was taken. The results came back showing that the defendant had methamphetamine in her blood. The defendant was then charged with transportation of a dangerous drug for sale, possession of a dangerous drug for sale, possession of a dangerous drug, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case discussing whether a police officer had reasonable suspicion to pull over the vehicle the defendant was driving based on the fact that the officer knew the owner of that vehicle had a suspended driver’s license. Ultimately, the court concluded that a police officer has reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop if they are aware the owner of the vehicle has a suspended license.

Reasonable Suspicion Required to Stop a Car

For a police officer to initiate a stop, the officer must have an objective belief that the person is involved in some illegal activity. When it comes to pulling over a motor vehicle, Arizona courts have held that an officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the operator is engaged in illegal activity.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer observed the defendant make a “fairly fast turn,” and ran the vehicle’s tag. Upon doing so, the officer learned that the owner of the vehicle had a driver’s license that had been revoked. Using his on-board computer, the officer viewed two pictures of the vehicle’s owner.

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Given the manner in which Arizona DUI laws are written and enforced, most people who are arrested and charged with an Arizona DUI offense have no idea that they were over the legal limit or were still under the influence of an intoxicating substance. Thus, the fact that Arizona has one of the strictest – if not the strictest –penalty schemes for driving under the influence creates a situation where a motorist may face severe consequences for violating a law they never knew they were breaking.

In Arizona, like most other states, it is illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or above. However, Arizona law is unique in that it creates “presumptions” depending on a motorist’s BAC. For example:

  • a motorist whose BAC is less than .05 is presumed not to be intoxicated;
  • a motorist with a BAC over .08 is presumed to be intoxicated; and
  • there is no presumption of intoxication for motorists with BACs between .05 and .08.

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The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that those who are charged with criminal offenses have the right to counsel at all critical stages of a legal proceeding. Relatedly, the Fifth Amendment provides that no person can be compelled to be a witness against themselves in a criminal trial.

Thus, in the 1966 case, Miranda v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court held that police must provide certain rights at the time of arrest. Primarily, officers are required to inform arrestees that they have the right to remain silent, that anything they say can be used against them, and that they are entitled to an attorney, even if they cannot afford one.

Miranda rights must be read to someone any time they are subject to “custodial interrogation.” While the term is subject to varying interpretations, to establish custodial interrogation, a defendant must show that they were in custody and that police made some statement that would be expected to elicit a response. If police officers do not provide Miranda warnings at the time of arrest, any statements that are made by the arrestee cannot be used in a criminal trial against them.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona aggravated DUI case that was brought against a man who was arrested for driving while under the influence while his license was suspended. The case required the court to determine if the lower court properly instructed the jurors that they could presume the defendant had notice that his license had been suspended. Ultimately, the court determined that the jurors were properly instructed and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Aggravated DUI in Arizona

Under Arizona Revised Statutes section 28-1383, a motorist can be charged with an aggravated DUI offense if the prosecution can prove one of several additional facts. For example, if a motorist is found to be driving under the influence while their license was suspended. Another example is if there is a passenger under the age of 15 in the vehicle at the time the driver is arrested for DUI.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested in Arizona after he rear-ended a police officer. It was later determined that the defendant was intoxicated and that his California driver’s license had been suspended. The defendant was charged with aggravated DUI, convicted, and sentenced accordingly.

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Late last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case in which the court had to determine if the officer’s arrest of the defendant was supported by probable cause. The case gave the court the opportunity to discuss probable cause in the DUI context, and what the prosecution must show to establish that probable cause existed to arrest someone for DUI.

The Facts of the Case

Two men were taking their two-year-old cousin to the pharmacy by car. The driver parked the car, and each man grabbed one of the young child’s hands as they walked across the parking lot toward the entrance to the pharmacy. As they were walking, however, the young child broke free from the men and was struck by the defendant’s truck.

Police officers responded to the scene and immediately learned that the child had died from the collision. One officer approached the defendant, who was huddled over and clearly distraught. As the officer bent down to talk to the defendant, he claimed that the defendant had a “strong, pungent” odor of alcohol coming from her breath. When asked, the defendant responded that she had consumed two cans of beer earlier that day. The officer also noticed that the defendant’s eyes were watery and her face was flushed. However, the officer acknowledged that the defendant’s appearance may have been due to her distraught state and was not clearly evidence of intoxication. The officer then arrested the defendant.

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While getting pulled over may seem random – and indeed, sometimes it is – police officers are not permitted to pull motorists over for no reason. In fact, when a traffic stop is challenged, police officers must be able to articulate the reasons they relied upon for stopping a motorist. If a police officer does not have an adequate reason to stop a motorist, or impermissibly extends the length of a traffic stop in order to conduct an investigation unrelated to the reason for the stop, any evidence seized as a result of the stop must be suppressed.

Many police “fishing expeditions” begin with an officer stopping a motorist they believe is engaged in illegal activity for unjustifiable reasons. For example, a stop may be based on the way the person looks, or an aggressive – but not necessarily illegal – traffic maneuver. The same is true for a police officer’s reasons to search a car.

Of course, police are permitted to pull a motorist over for a traffic violation and may search a car when there is evidence of criminal activity readily observable inside the car. One of the most common reasons police officers use to justify both traffic stops and searches of a cars is a belief that the driver was intoxicated. However, evidence of intoxication is notoriously suspect because it is subjective and there is often a major lack of documentation.

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In a recent opinion, an Arizona state court discussed the “medical draw exception” to the general requirement that police obtain a search warrant before taking the blood of someone they suspect to be under the influence. The case offered the court the opportunity to clarify the narrow set of circumstances under which the exception applies.

The Facts of the Case

A witness happened upon a vehicle that had crashed into a business’ entry gate. The witness saw the defendant turn off the engine and then slump over the wheel. The witness called 911, and the fire department came to assist the defendant.

The fire department personnel found the defendant unconscious, with no visible trauma, behind the wheel. They removed the defendant and took him to the hospital, where several tests were conducted, and again, no visible trauma was noted. The defendant was hooked up to a ventilator while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with him. Hospital staff took the defendant’s blood for medical purposes and securely stored it. A nurse noted that the defendant’s breath smelled of alcohol.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case, discussing when a police officer has cause to pull a motorist over for swerving. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant’s driving did warrant the officer’s traffic stop, and thus affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The Facts of the Case

A police officer first noticed the defendant’s vehicle because it was traveling 10-15 miles per hour below the posted speed limit. The officer began to follow the defendant, and observed the defendant’s vehicle cross the fog line and travel back and forth from one side of the lane to the other. The officer also witnessed the defendant stop short at two intersections. At all times, the defendant’s vehicle stayed within the lane of travel and maintained a speed between 10-15 miles per hour below the speed limit.

A few moments later, the defendant made a wide left-turn, again staying within his lane. However, after the turn, the officer testified that the defendant started to make “drastic moves . . . like an S,” crossing the fog line and driving into the painted median. The officer pulled the defendant over and eventually arrested him for DUI.

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Being arrested and charged with an Arizona DUI offense is a stressful, frustrating, and frightening experience. Indeed, depending on the charge, someone may be facing fines, license suspension, and time in jail. It may be tempting for some to try to get the case over with as soon as possible. However, before someone accepts the first offer that comes across the table from the prosecution, it is important that someone facing an Arizona DUI case considers the potential collateral consequences of having a conviction on their record.

For those who already have been convicted of a crime, they are likely already aware of the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. For those without experience in the criminal justice system, the collateral consequences of a conviction can be far worse than those prescribed by law.

What Are Collateral Consequences?

Collateral consequences are the additional penalties that stem from a criminal conviction other than probation, fines, or time spent in jail or prison. Some draw a line between the state-mandated collateral consequences and the social consequences. However, both are equally as real and carry the same potential to change a person’s life.

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