It goes without saying (but I'm saying it) that if you drink, you shouldn't drive. In Arizona, if you are over 21, it is NOT illegal to drive after drinking. However, driving after drinking an unknown amount of alcohol is illegal. Since it is next to impossible to figure out what that unknown amount is, it's best not to take the chance.
If you do make the mistake of drinking and driving in Arizona, and if you are pulled over by an Arizona law enforcement officer, then this article will give an extremely brief overview as to what you should generally expect and what you should generally do. Use this merely as a guide. For help on an individual case, you need to consult with an attorney.
The DUI Stop
You can be stopped for DUI in a variety of ways. The most common are:
- an officer stops you for some type of traffic infraction (or perceived traffic infraction) such as speeding, weaving, or failure to yield.
- an officer responds to an accident scene where he does not necessarily witness you driving.
Either way, just about every DUI police report will begin with the Officer's observations of signs of alcohol ingestion, such as odor of alcohol and bloodshot, watery eyes. Notwithstanding the fact that these are signs only indicative of ingestion, not necessarily impairment, the Officer will use this as a basis for "further investigation."
"Further Investigation" in this context means asking you to step out of your car and perform field sobriety tests. The Officer will pay close attention to how you exit the car, the manner in which you provide him with your driver's license, registration and insurance and the manner of your speech. Then the Officer will ask you to do Field Sobriety Tests. Depending on what the Officer observes and his suspicions, he will place you under arrest for DUI.
So, if you've been stopped for DUI, how do you respond? First -- and most importantly -- you must be courteous. Don't try to bargain your way out of this. Be respectful. Second, ask for a private place to speak to an attorney. The Officer probably will not allow you to speak to one immediately, however, if he ultimately does not honor your request, your entire case can be thrown out.
I am very skeptical about Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). For example, I defended a client at a DUI jury trial where the Officer admitted to the jury that my client passed the Field Sobriety Tests, yet he arrested him anyway. The reason for this is simple. Once the Officer stops your vehicle for some reason, for example, weaving, and then observes the odor of alcohol and bloodshot, watery eyes, he's already made up his mind what type of case this is. Everything after that is merely a procedure for gathering additional evidence of guilt. It is not a process to prove your innocence, regardless of what the Officer may tell you. Moreover, the Field Sobriety Tests themselves are merely coordination tests that are difficult to pass even under the most optimal of conditions. Because of these concerns, I don't see any value in agreeing to perform the FSTs. Politely decline. The Officer will probably arrest you anyway.
In case you are wondering, in the example I gave above the client was not convicted!
All details about Arizona law are subject to change without notice.