30 years ago, DUI was viewed as a glorified traffic ticket. Years of lobbying by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), and other groups, have completely transformed the law. Where once there was a single misdemeanor offense, there are now multiple ways in which you can be charged with DUI, including several felonies. An arrest for DUI now also carries the possibility of a suspension or revocation of your drivers license. A conviction for DUI can mean loss of a career.
For the vast majority of people who are law-abiding citizens, an arrest and prosecution for DUI will be the most serious encounter they ever have with the criminal justice system.
In 1987, on behalf of the criminal defense organization in Arizona, I co-founded an annual seminar to educate Arizona attorneys to defend these cases. I have co-hosted that seminar every year since 1987. Because of the continuing revolution in DUI law, that seminar has become one of the most highly attended in Arizona. Those seminars now stretch over two days. That attorneys need to attend a two day seminar annually devoted to DUI law demonstrates how complex these prosecutions have become. What follows is a brief overview of DUI law.
The State can now charge two separate offenses as a most basic DUI. The State can charge you with driving under the influence, which is defined as driving while you are “impaired to the slightest degree” by the consumption of alcohol. The chemical test which the State administers can constitute evidence that you were under the influence. As a totally separate matter, if blood or breath test reveals that you had an alcohol concentration greater than .08, the State can charge you with driving with an illegal blood-alcohol concentration. That offense is also known as DUI. This State is not required under that charge to prove that your driving was affected or that you were impaired in any way. If you are convicted of either driving while under the influence or driving with the illegal blood-alcohol level, you are convicted of DUI. If convicted of either, you face a minimum penalty of one day in jail, a requirement that you obtain alcohol counseling, a significant fine, a requirement that you maintain an ignition interlock on any vehicle that you operate for a significant period of time, and you have a DUI conviction on your record.
If the blood or breath alcohol test reveals a concentration greater than .15, you will be charged with extreme DUI. If convicted of extreme DUI, you are facing a minimum penalty of 30 days in jail, an increased fine, and the other consequences for any DUI conviction.
If your blood-alcohol concentration is alleged to exceed .20, you will be prosecuted for a super extreme DUI. A conviction for super extreme DUI carries a minimum penalty of 45 days in jail, a still further increased fine, and an extended period of time that you are required to have an ignition interlock on any vehicle that you operate.
It is probably no surprise to that you can also be prosecuted for DUI based upon a claim that you had illegal drugs in your system. However, you can also be prosecuted for DUI (drugs) based on a claim that you had lawfully prescribed drugs in your system if the State alleges that those prescription drugs “impaired you.” A conviction for any such offense counts as a DUI in your record with all the attendant consequences.
The legal drinking age in Arizona is 21. Anyone who is under the age of 21, caught operating a motor vehicle with alcohol in their system, faces a separate prosecution. It does not matter what the alcohol level is. If there is any alcohol in the person’s system, they will be prosecuted for minor operating a motor vehicle with alcohol in their system. If convicted, they face a two-year suspension of their drivers license. Prosecution for this offense is in addition to prosecution for any of the above listed DUIs or if the blood-alcohol level exceeds .08.
Arizona law now provides numerous ways in which the state can prosecute a DUI as a felony. These include any DUI while a person’s license is suspended, or when driving in violation of a restriction. It also includes a third DUI offense in seven years, or any DUI in which a child under the age of 15 is in the car. Conviction for aggravated (felony) DUI carries the potential for years in prison, and, in most cases, the minimum penalty is four months in prison. It also includes a mandatory revocation of your drivers license.