Introduction to Driving Under the Influence of Drugs in Arizona

introduction to driving under the influence of drugs in arizonaIn Arizona, driving under the influence of an impairing substance can result in fines, community service, and sometimes even jail time.  This article will outline the differences in procedure between a DUI and DUID, and will go step-by-step through the entire litigation process if you are charged with either.

What are the Differences?

The first, and main difference between an Arizona DUI and DUID is hinted at in the name itself- Driving under the Influence (of Alcohol) and Driving Under the Influence of Drugs.  While a traditional DUI must involve driver impairment due to alcohol, a DUID can include a variety of substances, including vapors and even pharmaceuticals.  The official Arizona law A.R.S. 28-1381 is as follows:

It is unlawful for a person to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle in this State under any of the following circumstances:

  1. While under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, a vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance or any combination of liquor, drugs or vapor releasing substances if the person is impaired to the slightest degree.
  1. If the person has an alcohol concentration of .08 or more within two hours of driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle and the alcohol concentration results from alcohol consumed either before or while driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle.     

Although a DUI and a DUID often look and are prosecuted identically, the true distinction between a DUI and a DUID is in the police officer’s ability to identify impairment.  A DUI is easy to identify, not only because alcohol imbues fairly obvious impairment, but also because the officer has the use of a hand-held breathalyzer at his/her disposal.  Although the exact precision of the hand-held breathalyzer has come under scrutiny, it is nonetheless a reliable tool that the officer has to quickly and confidently identify both the presence and approximate concentration of alcohol in one’s system.  Once the officer has determined that the driver’s blood alcohol content is at or above 0.08, the officer has the legal right to arrest and charge the driver with a DUI pursuant to trial.

driving under the influence of drugs in arizonaHowever, an officer accusation of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs must be met with higher procedural scrutiny than one of simply alcohol.  This is due to the very nature of the charge; the term ‘drugs’ encompasses a far wider breadth of substances, where each substance has different impairment potentials and legal ramifications to their use.

Regardless of the substance, the first step in determining if somebody is driving under the influence of drugs is actual identification of the impairment.  Arizona has been a point of interest in terms of DUID legislation.  In a former study, The State of Arizona was selected to observe DUI practices due to its no-tolerance per-se drugged driving law and the popularity of its state DRE program.

Arizona’s no-tolerance drugged driving law states that if the driver is visibly impaired upon probable cause, and the lab results are positive for an impairing drug in that person’s system, they can be charged with Driving Under the Influence of Drugs.  This is in contrast to more tolerant per-se laws in other states, where the concentration of the drug plays a role in the litigation process.  There is, however, an exception to be made for Arizona Medical Marijuana patients, where recent laws allow for the presence of certain concentrations of marijuana metabolites based on a variety of factors.

Arizona’s DRE program, or Drug Recognition Evaluator program, goes hand in hand with this law; if a state’s police force is already trained to recognize drug impairment, then the “based on sight” per se law is generally effectual.  Even if the officer has not been trained as a Drug Recognition Evaluator, it is considered protocol for the officer to call an evaluator if he/she has determined impairment.  This can be done before or after the arrest.

The Process:

If you have been pulled over on suspicion of impairment, there are several things that will typically happen.  First, the officer must have had probable cause to pull you over.  It is extremely important that the officer is able to provide you with that probable cause, because without it, he/she had no right to pull you over in the first place.  Probable cause can be a variety of things, but is most commonly swerving between lanes, forgetting to turn on lights at night, or driving excessively slowly or quickly.

process regarding driving under the influence of drugs in arizonaIf the officer notices physical signs of impairment, the first thing he or she will do is ask to administer either a breathalyzer or field sobriety test.  It is common knowledge amongst legal professionals to always deny a field sobriety test, as they have been known to skew actual inebriation or otherwise provide the State with extra evidence to prosecute.  If the officer is confident you are impaired but is not certified as a Drug Recognition Evaluator, they may call one to aid them in recognition of impairment.  If the Drug Recognition Evaluator is able to determine impairment as well, you as the driver are left with very few options.  The first is to submit to lab tests, which will accurately return whatever is in your system.  The second option is to continue to deny, which will almost always result in the officer obtaining an electronic warrant that orders a blood sample be drawn regardless, revealing the same facts.

However, in a recent study gauging the opinions of Arizona police officers, many have noticed that laziness and self-doubt sometimes prevent perfectly justified Drugged Driving arrests.  Often, drivers who are impaired on drugs will gladly submit to a breath test knowing that they have no alcohol in their system, leaving officers doubting the driver’s level of impairment.  Others note the length of time it takes for a Drug Recognition Evaluator to arrive on the scene as a dissuading factor in pursuing these types of charges.

Others hold a different opinion, arguing that advances in technology are making it easier to identify specific drugs before even sending blood or urine to the lab.  Strips of paper called “dip strips” allow officers to isolate the presence of certain drugs based on the color the paper changes when exposed to urine.  This allows officers freedom to start work on a case without waiting multiple weeks for the lab results to be returned.  In fact, because of the no tolerance laws in Arizona, the mere presence of an illegal drug showing up on a ‘dip strip’ will often be evidence enough to prosecute in court.  See the article from Norml on Arizona drugged driving.

Defense:

Even though punishment standards are almost identical between a DUI and DUID, the defense strategies could not be more different.  This is largely because Driving under the Influence of Drugs is an incredibly easy charge to prosecute in the State of Arizona due to its per-se laws.  As discussed before, Arizona’s per-se drug laws only require the mere metabolite of a drug, not its active component, be present in your system at the time of testing.  This means that if you had consumed cocaine on Tuesday and drove on Thursday, you will still be charged with a DUID if the officer believed you to be impaired.  As stated above, there is more leniency with marijuana metabolites as long as the defendant is a medical marijuana cardholder.

defenses to driving under the influence of drugs in arizonaSo what does this mean?  In terms of actual statistics, ninety five percent of people charged with a DUID plead guilty before trial.  Of those who go to trial, eighty percent are convicted.  Arizona is one of only a few states with no-tolerance per-se drug laws, meaning that most defense strategies are, in a sense, walled off.  All the State must do is have the presiding officer along with his or her Drug Recognition Evaluator testify that the person was impaired, and this paired with positive lab results is usually enough to convince a judge and jury.

There are, of course, some defense strategies if you truly believe you have a case.  For one, you may have consumed a drug you were prescribed, and was only impaired because of an unforeseen effect.  There is even the possibility of using the medical marijuana defense, and arguing that a metabolite does not constitute a psychoactive ingredient.  If you do wish to fight a Driving Under the Influence of Drugs charge, be sure to hire a talented and experienced DUI defense attorney.

The Penalties:

For a first time DUID offense, the jail sentencing ranges from 10 to 180 days, includes drug and alcohol treatment, fines of up to 1800 dollars, license suspension for 90 days and community service.  For a second time offense, the sentencing range rises to a minimum of 90 and maximum of 180 days, 3500 dollars in fines, one year license revocation, probation for up to five years, etc.  For a third offense, the charge is raised to a Class 4 aggravated felony.  This includes a minimum of four months in prison, up to 150,000 dollars in fines, state seizure of vehicle, license revocation for three years, and probation for five.

penalties associated with driving under the influence of drugs in arizonaIn the same interviews with Arizona police officers, many admitted that some DUID cases were dropped due to hold-ups in the lab.  Many stated that without the “dip strips,” some of the defendants would not have felt compelled to plead guilty due to the presence of evidence.  Thus, if you are pulled over and given the option to submit blood or urine directly to the lab, do so.  Your case may be dropped or even forgotten in the weeks following the incident.  However, if evidence of your impairment has been compiled against you, the presiding legal opinion is to plead guilty.  In a state with no-tolerance per-se laws, pleading guilty to a drugged driving charge is the only reliable way to avoid full penalty.

Arizona attorneys agree with this sentiment almost across the board.  They note the ease of conviction through the mere presence of drug metabolites, clarifying however that there is some difficulty with prescription drugs.  While presence of an illegal drug like cocaine or heroin will almost invariably result in a guilty plea, prescription drugs prove to be far more complicated.  However, even with prescription drugs, attorneys still believe defendants are on the back foot- the testimonies of the officer and the Drug Evaluation Expert will generally still carry the day.  Perhaps in the future, laws will change similar to those of medical marijuana, where the mere metabolite of a drug is not enough to prove impairment.  Unfortunately though, if you are charged with a DUID today in Arizona, you may fare best pleading guilty.

Interested in learning more about DUID laws in the state of Arizona?  We’d love to hear from you!  Comment below or reach out to us on our social media channels.  If you need criminal defense assistance for a drugged driving charge in the state of Arizona, contact an experienced DUI defense attorney today.