Arizona Court Condones Officer’s Arrest of Defendant, Despite Potentially Innocent Explanation for Signs of Intoxication

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.

The officer took the defendant to the station, obtained a search warrant to take the defendant’s blood, and then took a sample of the defendant’s blood. The test results showed that the defendant’s blood alcohol content was .201. The defendant unsuccessfully litigated a motion to suppress the blood evidence on several grounds, including that the police officer lacked probable cause to arrest her. Ultimately, the defendant was convicted by a jury of DUI.

The plaintiff appealed the denial of her motion to suppress, renewing her argument that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest her. Specifically, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence that she was intoxicated. The defendant noted the officer’s admission that her physical and emotional state may have been due to her grievous mindset, rather than intoxication.

The court disagreed, and affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion. The court explained that the evidence, when viewed as a whole, could lead a reasonable officer to the conclusion that the defendant was likely intoxicated. The court relied heavily on the “strong, pungent” odor of alcohol on the defendant’s breath, as well as her admission that she had consumed alcohol earlier in the day. The fact that there were potentially innocent explanations for the defendant’s appearance did not prevent the officer from considering her appearance, in conjunction with the other evidence, when concluding that she may have been intoxicated.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona DUI?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona DUI, you should reach out to dedicated Arizona DUI defense attorney James E. Novak. Attorney James Novak has decades of experience handling Arizona DUI cases, and has a deep understanding of both the substantive and procedural laws governing this area of law. Attorney Novak fights zealously on behalf of his clients, from the beginning of their case to the end. To learn more, and to speak with a member of our team about your case, 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:

Arizona Appellate Court Upholds DUI Conviction Over Defendant’s Operation Challenge, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, July 19, 2018

When Can an Officer Pull a Motorist Over Based on a Belief of Intoxication?, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, August 24, 2018

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