Arizona Appellate Court Upholds DUI Conviction Over Defendant’s Operation Challenge

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.

The 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.

The Issue

The case presents an important and often misunderstood issue that comes up in many Arizona DUI cases. In order to be convicted of a DUI offense in Arizona, the prosecution must establish that the defendant was either driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle. While most Arizona DUI cases are brought when the defendant is actually driving the car, it is not uncommon for someone to be charged with a DUI even when the car was parked, stopped, and turned off.

As noted above, Arizona makes it illegal to be in “actual physical control” of a vehicle while intoxicated. When it comes to determining actual physical control, courts look to a variety of factors. A few of these factors are:

  • Whether the vehicle’s engine was running;
  • If the vehicle was not running, the location of the keys to the vehicle;
  • If the engine was running, whether the car was in park;
  • The manner in which the vehicle was parked;
  • The location of the defendant in the vehicle;
  • Any statements made by the defendant; and
  • The presence of any other people in the car.

The Court’s Decision

The court in this case determined that the evidence was sufficient to prove the defendant was in actual physical control of the vehicle. The court noted that when the officer approached the defendant’s vehicle, she was behind the wheel, with the keys in the ignition, and the engine was running. This, the court held, was sufficient to establish actual physical control.

Of course, this determination is highly fact-specific, and every case is different. Anyone who has been charged with an Arizona DUI should consult with a dedicated Tempe DUI attorney to discuss their case.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona DUI?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona DUI, contact Attorney James E. Novak. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Novak has decades of experience handling Arizona DUI cases on both sides, and puts that knowledge to use for his clients. To learn more about how Attorney Novak can help you, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Phoenix DUI Blog:

DUI And No Insurance: What You Should Know, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, May 1, 2018

Nearly 300 DUI Arrests Were Made in Arizona over 4th of July Weekend, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, July 9, 2018

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