Introduction to DUI in Arizona

dui in arizona includes zero tolerance lawsArizona is a no-tolerance state when it comes to driving under the influence, meaning that anybody under the age of 21 found with alcohol in their system is eligible for DUI and arrest.  For those of legal drinking age, the standard determined for intoxication is a blood alcohol level of or above 0.08.  This article will explain the possible punishments for varying degrees of DUI in the state of Arizona, and what to do if you are charged.

What is Considered Driving Under the Influence?

In Arizona, driving under the influence is classified as the following:

•                      Any combination of liquor, drugs or vapor releasing substances if the person is impaired to the slightest degree.

•                      An Alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more within 2 hours of driving.

•                      If the Vehicle is a Commercial motor vehicle that requires a commercial drivers license and the operator has an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or above.

•                      For a driver under the age of 21 years to operate or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while there is any spirituous liquor in the driver’s body.

•                      A person driving with any illegal drug or the metabolite of any illegal drug in their body.

Although a DUI does include substances beyond alcohol, it is alcohol which DUI laws are most suited to accommodate.  Since alcohol’s presence and concentration can be determined using a breathalyzer, it is the solidest evidence a police officer can gather when attempting to issue a DUI.

degrees of dui in arizonaDegrees of DUI:

There are several degrees of DUI depending upon the driver’s blood alcohol level and past criminal record.

Standard DUI-

A standard DUI means that the driver had a BAC between 0.08 and 0.15.  For a first offense, a standard DUI could land you in jail for up to 10 days, and could cost up to 1500 dollars in fees.  Additionally, the punishment could include a 90 day suspension or year long revocation of your license, along with the installation of an interlock device for a year.  An interlock device is installed to block the ignition until the driver blows a sober Blood Alcohol Content reading.  For a second offense, the standard DUI punishments increase to 30 days in jail, 3500 dollars in potential fees and includes a sentencing of 30 hours community service.

Extreme DUI-

An extreme DUI includes those who blow a BAC of 0.15 to 0.2.  Although this Blood Alcohol Content range implies extreme intoxication, the possible punishments for a first offense extreme DUI are lower than that of a second offense standard DUI.  For a first offense, the punishments include 30 days in jail, 2780 dollars in fees, a 90 day license suspension, and a year installment of an interlock device.  For a second offense extreme DUI, the punishments are raised to 120 days in jail, 3740 dollars in fees, a one year license revocation, and 30 hours of community service.

Super Extreme DUI-

A Super Extreme DUI includes those who are caught driving with a blood alcohol level above a 0.2.  For a first offense, the punishments include 40 days in jail, 3240 dollars in fees, a 90 day license suspension, and an 18 month installment of an interlock device.  For a second offense, a Super Extreme DUI becomes 180 days in jail, 4650 dollars in fees, a 1 year license revocation, a 24 month interlock device installation and 30 months of community service.

It must be noted that all of these DUI classifications are considered varying degrees of misdemeanor.  Also, DUI offenders are eligible for home detention after mere days- ranging from 3 days for first time offenders to 36 days for second time offenders.

From this information, it is clear that Arizona DUI law prioritizes the punishment of repeat offenders far more than those with higher Blood Alcohol Content.  That can be seen in the negligible differences between first time offenders of Standard, Extreme, and Super Extreme DUI’s, compared with the significant rise in punishment severity between first and second time offenders within each designation.  From a logical standpoint, this makes sense- a repeat offender has not learned their lesson, which necessitates a greater punishment than the first time around.

Although the potential danger for both the intoxicated driver and other drivers on the road  increases as blood alcohol content increases, it is not as cut and dry as a repeat offense.  For one, hand-held breathalyzer tests are notoriously unreliable.  A breathalyzer test may output an exaggerated blood alcohol content reading based on a skewed concentration in one’s mouth.  For instance, if someone recently drank a beer, their actual Blood Alcohol Content may be 0.05, but could be tested at .085 from a mouth test.

Additionally, even if the reading is accurate, Blood Alcohol Content does not precisely determine intoxication.  For instance, a 0.25 Blood Alcohol Content reading for a 20 year alcoholic may result in the same intoxication as a 0.12 Blood Alcohol Content reading for a casual drinker.  Because law at its core is designed to prevent damage, and assigns punishments accordingly, Arizona DUI law seems to be a fair and logical determination of this severity/punishment metric.

felony dui as a type of DUI in arizonaAggravated DUI:

A DUI becomes an aggravated DUI in the State of Arizona if one of the following is in effect:

–        A child under the age of 15 was in the vehicle.  This is considered a Class 6 felony.

–        Two or more DUI charges within 7 years.  This is a Class 4 felony.

–        License was suspended or revoked.  This is a Class 4 felony.

–        Presence of Ignition Interlock Device.  This is a Class 4 felony.

Like most crimes, an aggravated DUI has both minimum and maximum punishments.

Class 6 felony-

If you had a child under the age of 15 in the car when charged with a DUI, you will be charged with a Class 6 felony.  This is the least harsh felony charge.  With no prior charges, the maximum punishment is two years in the Arizona Department of Corrections and 150,000 dollars in fees.  There is no minimum punishment for this charge; for determinations of prison time and legal fees, a Class 6 aggravated DUI is equivalent to a Class 1 misdemeanor.  However, it does require a year of counseling, a year of an ignition interlock machine, and almost guaranteed license revocation.

Class 4 felony-

A Class 4 felony is far more severe than a Class 6, and carries with it greater punishment.  For a Class 4 felony charge, the maximum prison sentence is three and a half years and 150,000 dollars in fees.  The minimum punishment, which is considered mandatory, is 4 months in the Arizona Department of Corrections and 4600 dollars in fees.  Additionally, an ignition interlock machine is installed for 2 years and your license is revoked for three.  For more information on DUI laws in Arizona the Arizona Department of Health Services website.

Possible Defenses to DUI in Arizona:

defenses to dui in arizonaNo reasonable suspicion-

If it can be proven that the officer stopped you based on race, religion, gender or age, and not probable cause of intoxication, this may be used as a defense.  Additionally, if the officer makes the DUI arrest based on Field Sobriety Tests, such as ‘walking a straight line,’ you may argue for invalidation of these tests if you:

–        are 50 pounds or more overweight

–        are 65 years or older

–        have back, hip, leg, knee, or ankle injuries

–        have a disability affecting balance

–        wearing heels two inches or higher

Also, if the officer performs an HGN (Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus), or eye test without being certified to do so, the arrest will be voided.  If you have been pulled over, you always have the legal right to refuse these physical Field Sobriety Tests.  If the officer arrests you solely based on the refusal to perform these tests, the arrest will again be voided.

Retrograde Extrapolation-

In July of 2000, the Arizona legislature intelligently added retrograde extrapolation as a possible DUI defense.  Retrograde extrapolation is predicated on understanding how alcohol is processed and metabolized in the body.  Through a mathematical equation, it can be proven that the Blood Alcohol Content recorded at the time of BAC testing is not the same as the BAC present at the time of driving.  For instance, let us say you drank three beers, and within 20 minutes left the bar.  While driving, those three beers are being digested, and the alcohol present in those beers has not yet entered your blood stream.  You are pulled over, and ordered to take a breathalyzer test.  Knowing how unreliable handheld breathalyzer tests are, you refuse and are taken back to the station to be tested on a more reliable machine.  An hour passes, and by the time you are tested back at the station, you are significantly drunker and are testing at a higher BAC content than when you were actually driving.  If, through the math equation, you are able to prove that you were below 0.08 BAC at the time of driving, it is possible to use retrograde extrapolation as a defense.

Breathalyzer Inaccuracy-

As explained previously, handheld breathalyzers used in traffic stops are notoriously unreliable.  Thus, if you can prove through evidence that the Blood Alcohol Content recorded was skewed based on extenuating circumstances, this may provide a successful defense.  Additionally, breathalyzers have to be calibrated every month to within plus or minus 10 percent accuracy, and must go through a quality assurance inspection every 90 days.  If an officer cannot provide these records, a defense based on this could be possible.

No Control-

Sometimes, an intoxicated individual will realize halfway through driving that they are too intoxicated to continue, and will pull off on the side of the road.  If an officer arrests you based on your intoxication, you can argue in court that you were not actually operating the vehicle, and were in fact trying to mediate the situation and prevent damage.

Police Officer Error-

Using police error is a very common defense, and encompasses a wide array of mistakes.  Two very common ones are the denial of right to counsel- which is simply the officer’s refusal to allow the offender to contact legal aid- and a violation of Miranda Rights, which is based on the officer not reading the offender their Miranda Rights upon arrest.  Any statement given to police in the absence of these Miranda Rights is not admissible as evidence.  Additionally, any statement which is considered “involuntary” based on police coercion or intimidation, is not admissible as evidence.  This also includes sloppy or inaccurate police reports or reported forensic evidence.  For more information contact an experienced DUI attorney in Arizona.

To unearth these subtle errors, or to collect evidence for any of the defense strategies listed above, an experienced defense attorney is required.  Although DUI charges may seem cut and dry based on Blood Alcohol Content and other considerations, this article provides evidence that there are established precedents to successfully defend against these allegations.

Interested in learning more about DUI 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 help for a DUI charge in the state of Arizona, contact an experienced Phoenix defense attorney today.