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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Under Arizona law, there is a general rule that a person who is charged with a crime can prevent their spouse from testifying against them. This is even the case if the other spouse wants to testify against the spouse who is charged with a crime. The rule, called the anti-marital fact privilege, or spousal privilege, has its roots in the common law and has been a part of Arizona law since the beginning of the state’s formation.

Arizona’s spousal privilege has a number of exceptions that can prevent its application. The most common exception is called the “crimes exception” and involves a situation in which one spouse is charged with a crime that was committed against the other spouse. A recent Arizona DUI case illustrates the crimes exception to Arizona’s spousal privilege statute.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s husband (Husband) called police because the defendant was trying to leave their home while she was intoxicated. Husband attempted to park one of the couple’s other vehicles behind the defendant’s minivan to prevent her from leaving, but the defendant got into the minivan and backed into the other vehicle. The defendant was later arrested and charged with DUI and causing criminal damage.

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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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