How Arizona DUI Laws Have Changed & The Direction The Laws Are Headed

How Arizona DUI Laws Have Changed & The Direction The Laws Are Headed

Best DUI Lawyer in AZ

Arizona is known for having some of the harshest DUI laws in the country. When the legislature imposes harsh laws for conduct, one of the reasons they generally cite for doing so is general deterrence. That is, to create penalties so harsh that they deter the public from committing the crime. But right now, ask yourself what the penalties are for a first time DUI. Ask yourself what the penalties are for an aggravated DUI, and what an aggravated DUI even is. Do you know? Most people do not. Most people don’t know the collateral consequences of a DUI conviction either, such as what happens with the Arizona Department of Transportation, but given the way they can be enforced, they can have unintended lifelong negative impacts. 

Nobody condones drinking and driving, and it is easy to say that we don’t care about what happens to a person convicted of DUI. That is, until it is your son or your daughter. Maybe it happens to your elderly mother who has COPD, and because of her COPD there are lifelong negative impacts associated with having an interlock required. Or maybe it happens to you? Believe me, you will care then. Let’s not kid ourselves, getting arrested for DUI happens to good people every day in Arizona. 

Good laws are well balanced laws. People have been giving Arizona’s DUI laws more and more thought, and the last few years, the legislature has chipped away at some of the unfair burden that the current laws have placed upon people. 

One of the ways that the laws have changed, is by taking a closer look at whether a person should be subject to a lengthy license suspension for a low level, first offense DUI. On its face, the answer to this question may seem like yes. But the reality of Arizona, and areas like Phoenix, is that we have not developed like other larger cities. We have an urban sprawl that all but requires the ability to drive in order to survive. 

Taking a person’s license away for 3 – 12 months will most likely mean that the person suffers immense hardship. Being arrested for a DUI in and of itself is expensive. Now, add to that losing your job because you cannot commute to work. Or losing the ability to pick up your children from school. I get it, no one should ever drive drunk. There is simply no excuse to do so. That said, should a first-time mistake cost you your livelihood? 

During the 2022 Arizona legislative session, the legislature passed bill SB1334 that would allow people who have an administrative suspension the ability to drive with an interlock installed rather than have a license suspension in certain situations. Doesn’t this make sense? A person with an interlock on their vehicle that must blow into a breathalyzer before they drive is less likely to drive after drinking than a person who simply has a suspension. The breathalyzer is a tangible safeguard, while the suspension is not. As someone who played a significant role in drafting this legislation, I can tell you with certainty there is an apitite at the legislature to keep moving in this direction. 

Should everyone arrested for DUI be required to have a breathalyzer though, no matter what the circumstances are? Let’s go back to the earlier example of the elderly mother who has COPD and has been arrested for a low-level first offense DUI. Let’s pretend it is her first criminal offense ever—which is usually the case. Now, as a result, she must have a Intoxilyzer installed in her vehicle. Because of her COPD, she cannot blow enough air into the machine, and it constantly gives her error messages. This locks her out of driving and causes her pain. The consequence for this—an indefinite license suspension. There is no way around it—or at least there wasn’t.

This session, SB1453 was passed which offers grandma a way out of an indefinite license suspension in this circumstance.  While cleaning up some of the technical administrative aspects of Arizona’s DUI laws, the bill offers people who can provide sufficient evidence of a medical condition that prevents them from being physically able to blow into an Intoxilyzer the ability to partake in monthly alcohol screening and counseling for the time they are required to have the interlock.  

The fact is, Arizona’s DUI laws were originally drafted in a way to deliver swift and harsh punishment to everyone who is accused of a DUI, regardless of their individual circumstances. I use the word accused instead of convicted intentionally, because the punishment starts 30 days after you’re arrested—despite there not being a conviction. 

There are many other nuances to Arizona’s DUI laws that are not understood by the public at large. Trying to read the statutes and understand the laws that way is a near impossible task for the average layman. For those who understand the laws or have been through it, there are common sense solutions to problems that will both keep our roads safe, while not completely destroying a person’s life for a low-level first offense. This, we can all agree on. This is evidenced by the legislature’s bipartisan willingness to do the work that needs to be done to solve some of these issues. That said, there is much more work to be done in this area. 

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About the Author – Criminal Defense Lawyer in Phoenix, Arizona

Steven Scharboneau is an Arizona attorney practicing criminal defense law and is also a lobbyist with deep roots in the Phoenix Metro area. While he primarily practices in the area of Arizona criminal law, he also practices in other areas where the opportunity to represent the accused presents itself. Beyond the courtroom, Steven advocates for Arizonans impacted by the criminal justice system by working to change Arizona’s criminal laws. Protecting the rights of others from government intrusion is Steven’s passion in life.

This blog is intended to offer explanations of criminal laws and discuss general and basic legal concepts in Arizona. If you have questions or comments specific to a blog entry, feel free to contact me. Nothing on this site is to be construed as legal advice nor to establish an attorney client relationship. If  you would like  more information regarding  your specific situation, you can contact me 24/7 at (480) 363-0090 or through the Contact Me page on this site.