Arizona DUI Charges Based on a Driver’s “Physical Control” Over a Vehicle

Arizona law recognizes driving under the influence (DUI) as a violent crime, and violations of the law may result in hefty penalties and incarceration. For example, recently, a court issued an opinion stemming from an Arizona defendant’s appeal of his DUI conviction. The case arose after police responded to a welfare check of the defendant sitting in a vehicle outside of a restaurant. According to police, a database search revealed that the man had a suspended license and was required to have an ignition interlock device in his vehicle. Police testified that the defendant appeared intoxicated, refused a field sobriety test, and did not have an interlock device in his vehicle. The defendant told police that a friend drove him between bars, but he could not provide the friend’s contact information. A subsequent blood test determined that the defendant’s blood-alcohol level was over the legal limit.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with several DUI offenses, and in the alternative, the State alleged actual physical control of a vehicle under the influence. The jury convicted the defendant of all counts. Amongst several issues, the defendant argued that he should not have been convicted of actual physical control because the indictment did not include those charges.

Under Arizona law, Statute 28-1381(A)(1), it is illegal to drive or have actual physical control while under the influence or impaired. Specifically, a person may not maintain control or drive a vehicle if they are under the influence of liquor, any drug, any vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance, or any combination of these substances. Courts will determine whether a party had “physical control” by examining a host of factors. Some relevant factors include:

  • Whether the Driver is asleep or awake;
  • Whether the vehicle’s headlights were on;
  • Whether the vehicle was legally parked or stopped;
  • Whether the motorist voluntary pulled over to the side of the road;
  • The time of day; and
  • Whether the vehicle’s heat or air conditioning was running.

In addition to the defendant’s claim that the indictment was for driving, not actual physical control, he maintained insufficient evidence of actual physical control. The court reasoned that the State did not maintain an obligation to notify the defendant that he would be prosecuted under an actual physical control theory. Further, they opined that a jury could reasonably conclude that the defendant drove himself between the bar and restaurant. The court found that the defendant’s askew parking, his intoxication and inability to provide contact information for the friend he stated drove him, could lead a jury to infer that he had control of the vehicle. Further, there was testimony that the keys were in the ignition, he was awake and in the driver’s seat. Ultimately, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Have You Been Charged with a DUI in Arizona?

If you have been charged and arrested for an Arizona DUI, contact the Law Office of James E. Novak. Attorney Novak has successfully represented numerous DUI defendants in Arizona during all stages of their criminal cases. For nearly 20 years, Attorney Novak has defended those accused of Arizona crimes. He handles Arizona cases stemming from DUIs, assaults, theft, burglary, weapons offenses, domestic charges, probation violations, and drug charges. Attorney Novak’s holistic approach, vast experience, and loyalty to his clients make him a valuable asset to anyone facing Arizona drunk driving charges. Contact attorney Novak at 480-413-1499, to discuss your Arizona criminal charges.

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