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DUI arrestLate 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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police stopWhile 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.Legal News Gavel

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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Legal News GavelEarlier 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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Legal News GavelBeing 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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Legal News GavelNormally, after someone is found guilty of an Arizona DUI charge by a judge or jury, they are able to appeal the case to a higher court, arguing that their conviction should be reversed or a new trial granted based upon some legal error committed at the court below. There are many types of errors that can result in a successful appeal, including an improperly denied motion or a wrongly decided objection.

Of course, beating a case outright is always the goal when taking a case to trial. However, the ultimate decision is up to the judge or jury. When a finder of fact rules against a defendant, it is important that they have all available options to appeal any adverse decision that was made in their case. Thus, preserving all potential issues for appeal is an important consideration for any Arizona DUI attorney.

As noted above, when a case is taken to trial in front of a judge or jury, and the defendant is found guilty, they will have an automatic right to an appeal to the Arizona Court of Appeals. However, there are a few circumstances in which a defendant will be considered to have waived their right to appeal.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona DUI case requiring the court to determine if the evidence presented by the prosecution was sufficient to convict the defendant. Specifically, the defendant challenged the finding that she was operating the vehicle. Ultimately, the court upheld the defendant’s conviction, finding that the fact that the defendant was unconscious behind the wheel was sufficient to prove she was operating the vehicle.

Sleeping Behind WheelThe Facts

The defendant was found unconscious behind the wheel of her vehicle by a firefighter who was conducting a wellness check. The defendant’s car was parked across several parking spaces. The firefighter knocked on the window until the defendant awoke, at which point he reached in and turned off the vehicle.

As the fireman was talking with the defendant, a police officer arrived. The police officer asked the defendant for her identification, and she handed him her debit card. The defendant eventually provided the officer with her identification. The officer claimed he noticed signs of intoxication, and asked the defendant to perform several field sobriety tests. In the officer’s assessment, the defendant failed the tests and she was arrested for DUI.

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Anyone who has ever been arrested for an Arizona DUI knows that the criminal justice system treats driving under the influence very seriously. Over the years, legislatures across the country have continued to enact stricter penalties for those convicted of driving under the influence, even for first-time offenders.

Legal News GavelWhen someone is arrested for an Arizona DUI, it is often the first time they have faced criminal charges. This can be a very stressful and traumatic experience because defendants rarely know what punishment they could face if they are found guilty, and they often have no idea about how to go about contesting the charges.

While some Arizona DUI cases are best settled before trial, there are a number of cases in which the prosecution cannot meet their burden to establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In other cases, police officers overstep their authority by stopping motorists, searching their cars, or asking them to take blood- or breath-tests. The fact is, Arizona DUI charges can be fought, and won, in many cases.

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The 4th of July is known as a holiday when people kick back and relax with friends and family. Over this holiday, it is inevitable that some people will have too much to drink. Knowing this fact, each year Arizona police set out to make a statement against driving under the influence by focusing their efforts on strictly enforcing the state’s DUI laws over the holiday break.

Police SirensAccording to a recent news report, 1,726 law enforcement officers participated in a state-wide enforcement effort over the holiday. In total, police made over 11,000 traffic stops over July 3rd and 4th, and arrested nearly 300 people on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Of those, 62 of the arrests were for “extreme DUI” in which the driver’s blood-alcohol content is alleged to be greater than .15.

Police Were Looking for Reasons to Stop Drivers

Given that the state’s law enforcement officers were on high alert for drivers under the influence, it is likely that many of the traffic stops police made were motivated by “gut instincts” rather than articulable facts supporting a finding that the driver was under the influence. However, under Arizona law, police officers cannot pull over motorist for no reason or act on a hunch when determining which motorists to stop. Doing so violates the motorist’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

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Police officer at driver windowDrivers facing DUI charges may want to seek the help of an experienced DUI defense attorney to represent them in their case. The potential damage to your driving record, your criminal record, and your insurance rates is significant. 

If your DUI case involves no insurance you might also find it difficult to obtain insurance after the DUI charges are filed. Fortunately, criminal defense attorney James Novak in Phoenix, AZ can help minimize the consequences of being arrested for DUI. 

Possible Punishments for Driving without Insurance in Arizona

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