Introduction to Defenses to Driving under the Influence Charges
Being arrested for a driving under the influence charge is actually a frequent occurrence. One out of five drivers will be arrested at some point for a driving under the influence.[i] Driving under the influence charges tend to clog up the legal system in each state, and in some more than others. In California, 40% of criminal prosecutions are for driving under the influence.[ii] In 2012, Arizona set a record high number of arrests for driving under the influence.[iii] The number of arrests that year were at 32, 174 for the year.[iv] There was a decline by 2014, but the number was still incredibly high: 28.471.[v] The punishments for driving under the influence convictions can be pretty steep, and very costly for the individual. Just like any other criminal conviction, there are a series of commonly used defenses for driving under the influence charges.
Classifications of Driving Under the Influence
A driving under the influence charge can vary depending on the blood alcohol concentration level in the driver and their previous charges. To begin with, there are generally three categories for driving under the influence charges in the United States.[vi] When it comes to driving under the influence of alcohol, the legal limit is set at a 0.08% blood alcohol concentration, and this legal limit is set across the United States.[vii] The first classification of driving under the influence charges is the standard DUI – which is when a driver is under the influence of 0.08% blood alcohol concentration while driving.[viii] The 0.08% blood alcohol concentration is for standard vehicles.[ix] When it comes to commercial vehicles, the legal limit for the driver is a 0.04% blood alcohol concentration.[x] While the states vary on underage drinkers, many states – like Arizona – have a no tolerance policy.[xi] This means that if the driver is found to have even 0.01% blood alcohol concentration in their system, they could be charged with driving under the influence.[xii]
The next classification of a driving under the influence charge is the extreme DUI. While the number can vary depending on the state, typically a driving under the influence of alcohol charge will rise to the extreme classification when the blood alcohol concentration reaches 0.15% or higher.[xiii] The next level of classification for a driving under the influence charge is an aggravated DUI.[xiv] An aggravated DUI in Arizona can arise under three different situations.[xv] First, an aggravated DUI can arise if the DUI was committed while the driver’s license was either suspended or revoked.[xvi] Next, if the DUI was the third offense for DUI within 84 months.[xvii] And finally, if the DUI was committed with a child under the age of 15 years, the DUI will be classified as aggravated.[xviii]
When it comes to driving under the influence of drugs – both legal and illegal, those vary greatly from state to state.[xix] The reason for that is because some states in the United States have legalized the use of marijuana, which is a common drug that leads to driving under the influence. For states that do not have laws to legalize marijuana, the majority of those states have a no tolerance rule.[xx] This means that if a driver is found to have any marijuana or any other illegal drugs in their system, they will likely lead receive a driving under the influence charge.
When it comes to driving under the influence charges for the use of legal prescription drugs, or even over the counter drugs, the standards are the same for driving under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol. Even though one drug is considered illegal under the law, and other considered perfectly fine to take – either drug can greatly affect your ability to drive. If a person takes a prescription drug, one that could cause drowsiness or especially one that states do not operate heavy equipment, the driver could be pulled over by law enforcement if they show signs of impaired driving.[xxi] In some states, driving while tired can even result in a driving under the influence charge – if the driver appears to be impaired.
The Consequences of Driving under the Influence
The consequences for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be incredibly severe, no matter what state you are in. While some consequences are just monetary, that can have a huge impact on a person with very little expendable funds. Other consequences are harsher, and can include revocation of the driver’s license or even jail time. In Arizona, the punishment for a driving under the influence conviction will depend on what offense the DUI is; first, second, third, or higher.[xxii] For a first offense of a standard driving under the influence conviction, the driver could face up ten days in jail, a fine of $1,250, required completion of an alcohol/drug screening treatment and education program, possibly the ignition interlock requirement for every vehicle the driver operates, and community services.[xxiii]
For a second offense, the drive could now face up to ninety jails in fail, a $3,000 fine, revocation of their driver’s license for twelve months, required completion of an alcohol/drug screening treatment and education program, possibly the ignition interlock requirement for every vehicle the driver operates, and community services.[xxiv]
Now, when it comes to an extreme driving under the influence conviction, even the first offense can bring about severe consequences. To start out with, the driver could face thirty days in jail, a fine of at least $3,250, revocation of their driver’s license for twelve months, possibly the ignition interlock requirement for every vehicle the driver operates, and community services.[xxv] For the second offense of an extreme DUI, the jail time could raise to one hundred and twenty jails in jail, and fines up to $3,250 – on top of the education programs, ignition interlock system, and community service.[xxvi] The penalties for an aggravated DUI could result in two years in prison, revocation of the driver’s license for three years, as well as possibly the ignition interlock requirement for every vehicle the driver operates, and community services.[xxvii]
Commonly Used Defense for Driving Under the Influence Charges
Now, considering how extreme the penalties can be for a person with a driving under the influence charge can be – it is no wonder that there are numerous standard defenses to the DUI itself. Before jail time, endless fees, and revocation of the driver’s license, usually a person will try to defend themselves the best way that they could. While most of the time the court will be able to adequately show that the driver was intoxicated to the point of impairment while driving, there are instances where it is not so clear cut. It is at this point where defenses will come in handy.
First, there are defenses related to the factor of actually driving.[xxviii] If the alleged driver was not actually driving at the time, this could be a way to fight the DUI charge.[xxix] While some states have laws that prevent an intoxicated person from being in the driver’s seat of the car, even with the car off, that is not a law of all states so this defense could be applicable. When the alleged driver is actually being pulled over, while in the act of driving, it is hard to dispute the factor of driving. However, there are instances where the driver and passenger could switch seats, or the office saw you getting out of your car drunk but never actually saw you driving. In those cases, the officer is unable to prove that they actually saw you driving, and without that, the court may not proceed with the charge.
Next, the driver can provide a defense for why it was improper for the office to pull them over while driving.[xxx] A police officer cannot just pull anyone over while driving, they must have probable cause to do so.[xxxi] If the officer pulled the driver over without any justifiable reason, any evidence the officer gatherings during that stop could be found to be inadmissible – which means it cannot be used against the defendant at court.[xxxii] This would include evidence from the breathalyzer test or blood tests that are performed during the stop.[xxxiii] Without that evidence, the case against the driver is not very strong.
Another way that evidence can be throw out from being inadmissible, is if the police officer fails to provide the driver with his Miranda Warnings.[xxxiv] The Miranda Warnings are commonly heard on police crime dramas and start off with you have the right to remain silent. If the office fails to provide these warnings when legally required to do so, in any case – not just driving under the influence instances – then evidence that would normally come into court will be excluded.[xxxv] So, if a driver is pulled over on suspicion of driving impaired from alcohol or drugs, and is arrested but NOT given their Miranda Warnings, the evidence the police officer collected subsequently could be excluded.
Since no person is able to tell the exact blood alcohol concentration level in an individual, the use of devices is a crucial key to provide the best evidence in court. While the officer can perform a field sobriety test – where the office will ask the driver to touch his nose or walk in a straight line – the use of breathalyzers and blood tests will be able to determine the exact blood alcohol concentration of the driver.[xxxvi] Devices however are not an exact science for this, so there are numerous defenses that could be applicable here. The driver can attack the accuracy of the breathalyzer, the tools used to clean the device, or the amount of time between being pulled over and when the test was given.[xxxvii]
While driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious offense, every individual is entitled to proper procedures by the police, which protect their constitution rights. Individuals also have the right to provide a defense for those charges. Since the consequences of a DUI can be very severe, it is important that individuals make sure that all police procedure were taken properly and inadmissible evidence is not used against them at court. Without admissible evidence in court, the judge would have to rely on the police officer’s word that the defendant was guilty, and that is just not how our legal system works.
[i] See How Common is DUI? Los Angeles DUI Defenders (Published March 6, 2014) http://www.losangelesduilawyernow.com/how-common-is-dui/
[iii] See DUI Arrests Down For the 3rd Year on Arizona Highways. AZ Central the Arizona Republic (Published January 2, 2015). http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2015/01/02/dui-arrests-rd-year-arizona-highways/21214789/
[vi] See Arizona Drunk Driving Fines & Penalties DUI Driving Laws. (Accessed June 3, 2016). http://dui.drivinglaws.org/arizona.php
[vii] See Impaired Driving: Get the Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed May 27, 2016). http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html
[ix] See Arizona Drunk Driving Fines & Penalties DUI Driving Laws. (Accessed June 3, 2016). http://dui.drivinglaws.org/arizona.php
[xix] See Michelle Fabio Marijuana DUI: How Marijuana Use Can Be Considered a DUI. Legal Zoom. (Published October 2014). https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/marijuana-dui-how-marijuana-use-can-be-considered-a-dui
[xxi] See How Legal Drug Use Can Lead to a DUI or DWI. NOLO Legal Encyclopedia (Accessed May 27, 2016). http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/dui-legal-drug-use-30320.html
[xxii] See Arizona Drunk Driving Fines & Penalties DUI Driving Laws. (Accessed June 3, 2016). http://dui.drivinglaws.org/arizona.php
[xxviii] See DUI and DWI Defenses NOLO Legal Encyclopedia (Accessed June 3, 2016). https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/dui-dwi-defenses-32254.html
[xxxvi] See DUI and DWI Defenses NOLO Legal Encyclopedia (Accessed June 3, 2016). https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/dui-dwi-defenses-32254-2.html