In 2018 the Arizona Legislature enacted a new DUI felony which made it a Class 4 Felony to drive the wrong way on a “highway” while in violation of Arizona’s DUI laws. The mandatory minimum sentence includes 4 months in the Arizona State Prison, which in no way can be waived. The reason offered by the sponsors for the law is the fact that wrong way DUI driving on high-speed roads like freeways frequently causes very serious accidents.
The sponsors of this 2018 Wrong Way DUI Felony Law made very clear they intended “highway” to mean a controlled access highway or freeway. Unfortunately, the sponsors did not explicitly say that and under Arizona law the term “highway” can mean any public street, and so a County Attorney could prosecute a wrong way DUI driver who is on any street including a residential street with a posted speed limit of 25 mph.
Also left unaddressed is the fact that someone can be in violation of Arizona’s DUI laws even if they are not impaired. A person is in violation of the DUI laws if they have a valid prescription but are not taking that drug as prescribed, even though they are not impaired.
Putting these two factors together the current Wrong Way DUI Felony could apply to this woman:
A Disabled Vietnam Veteran has a prescription for Percocet which provides she is to take two pills a day to relieve pain for a war related leg injury. Because she has built up a tolerance over the years, she takes 3 Percocet pills a day instead of the 2. Because her body has gotten use to the Percocet, the 3 pills do not impair her. Because of the injury to her leg, she can only work at a part time job delivering newspapers. Because it is painful for her to get out in and out of her vehicle to deliver the papers, she does so by throwing the papers out of her driver’s side door and to get them in the proper driveway she drives down the wrong side of residential streets. This Disabled Vietnam Veteran has never been convicted of DUI. Under the Wrong Way DUI Driver law this Disabled Vietnam Veteran is guilty of a Class 4 felony because the residential street legally could be a “highway” and because by taking 3 pills a day and not the prescribed 2, she is in violation of the DUI laws even though she is not impaired. If guilty the judge will have no choice, this Disabled Vietnam Veteran must be sentenced to 4 months in State Prison.
This year’s legislative bill HB2296 contained a common-sense modification of the Wrong Way DUI felony law. Consistent with the 2018 sponsors’ intent, “highway” would mean a State Highway with a posted speed limit of 50 mph and the law would no longer apply to residential streets and those portions of State Highways which are like city streets (for example Ash Street in Globe, with a posted speed limit of 30 mph) and would more closely apply to those highways the 2018 law’s sponsors had intended it to apply to. HB2296 passed the State House of Representatives on a vote of 59-0 and so the modification looked very likely to pass. However, county attorneys managed to convince Senators to drop this proposed modification and so the law will not be changed this year. Hopefully this common-sense modification will pass next year so that someone like the Disabled Vietnam Veteran in my example will not have to face 4 months in State Prison.
For more information about Arizona DUI and criminal law issues please contact Gordon Thompson who has used his experience to write a blog on topics of interest. You can also chat with Gordon about your specific questions.