How Is A DUI Or DWI Defined In Arizona?


In Arizona, driving under the influence is defined as being impaired to some extent or to the slightest degree as the statute would say, by alcohol, drugs or some combination thereof.  There are three levels of alcohol DUI; there is driving with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08%, or 0.15% BAC and a 0.20% BAC, all measured within two hours of driving. With drugs, there is driving with a controlled substance in the system, either with or without a valid prescription.

Do Most of Your Clients Have High Blood-Alcohol Content Levels When Charged with a DUI?

It varies quite a bit; I’ve certainly had many cases with clients who were below the 0.08 limit, and also some with BAC levels over 0.40 percent, but in general, it’s hard to say if there is a typical case.  At least half of the cases are extreme, which means greater than 0.15%.  With drug cases, there is no way to  quantify how much of a drug is in someone’s system, at least initially; that’s evidence that’s developed later, as long as it’s not an illegal drug, like marijuana.  If a prescription drug is at issue, quite often the levels tend to be high.

Quite often, in a prescription drug case, offenses tend to be committed during the day and it usually takes something unusual to draw the attention of the police, since they don’t expect DUI in the middle of the day; by unusual, it would mean something like extremely bad driving or an accident. In prescription cases, levels tend to be higher when they’re eventually discovered by blood testing. Having said that, I have a case right now in which it’s a very low level and happened at night.

Do People Generally Understand They Are Impaired After Taking a Prescription Medicine?

People often don’t perceive the danger of being under the influence; they think as long as they have a prescription for it, they’re not guilty of anything, which is clearly not the case’ if they’re impaired, it’s a problem. With drug cases, there seems to be a lack of perception of impairment and that the charge is serious; for a first-offense DUI for alcohol, you get a 90-day license suspension, but a first-offense DUI for a drug, even for a prescription drug, if that person is guilty, it’s a mandatory one-year revocation of their driver’s license.

I like to explain the difference in the consequences against the license as, if someone drinks a 12-pack of beer and runs into a school bus full of kids, if no one is injured, they get a 90-day license suspension, but if they take Soma without eating as you’re supposed to, and they get a DUI, their license is revoked for a year of no driving at all; it’s not a logical distinction but that’s how it goes; driving under the influence of drugs is illegal and the penalty can be much harsher than for DUI alcohol.  I think this is because when the legislature came up with the DUI drug statute, they assumed the drugs would be something clearly illegal, like marijuana, heroin, speed or meth, so they made the penalty harsher; I don’t think they realized that people taking a prescription medication would be caught so often.

That can be a particular problem because, with many cases, people are taking prescriptions for severe pain problems or other medical issues and they tend to be older, but if found guilty suddenly they’re unable to drive for a year which can be a major problem for an older person. Drugs are different in Arizona, regardless of the logic, but there’s no requirement that the law make sense.

Are People More Aware in Arizona Regarding DUI Matters?

There is an almost a uniform lack of knowledge of the DUI drug laws.  People charged with alcohol DUI however tend to be aware of the penalties by the time they talk to me and they understand the wrongfulness of driving under the influence of alcohol, but DUI drugs are another story; they think, if you have a prescription, you’re fine legally, but that’s not the case.

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