DUI and Arizona Courts
Misdemeanor DUIs are generally prosecuted in Municipal Courts or Justice Courts in Arizona. Generally, Superior Court handles felony DUIs. Regardless of whether your case is a felony or a misdemeanor, no one should make any decision as to how to proceed on a DUI case without the advice/guidance of an experienced attorney. If you are indigent, you will qualify for a public defender.
Your defense lawyer will review the evidence against you and advise you accordingly. Sometimes it is better to plead out prior to trial. Sometimes it is better to go to trial. It depends on your case. If you go to trial, you have the right to a jury trial. You can also waive a jury and just try your case to the judge. Again, which option is best depends on your case and the judge.
DUI Sentencing and Mandatory Jail Time in Arizona
If you are convicted of DUI in Arizona you will go to jail. It is mandatory. The amount of jail depends on your alcohol concentration, your prior criminal history (particularly DUI history), as well as the circumstances of your case. For a first offense, if your reading is below .15, then the minimum amount of jail is 24 hours. If your reading is between .15 and .20, then the minimum is 30 days in jail. If your reading is above .20, then the minimum jail time is 45 days. Keep in mind that the State has to prove that your actual alcohol concentration was above those minimum amounts in order for you to be subject to the enhanced jail sentence.
As you can well imagine, if it's not your first offense, then the penalties grow exponentially. The jail time is mandatorily enhanced if you have, and the State proves that you have, a DUI prior within 84 months of the current charge. For example, a second offense DUI, with a reading of less than .15, has a 30 day minimum jail sentence in Arizona. A second offense with a reading of between .15 and .20 is 120 days in jail. A second offense with a reading of over .20 is 180 days in jail.
In addition to the jail time, there are mandatory fines in Arizona which also depend on alcohol concentration and prior DUI history. Alcohol classes will be ordered. You will be required to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
Serving Less Time: 2012 Law Changes in Arizona
In an unexpected move, the Arizona legislature, it may be fair to say, has softened some of the harshest DUI laws in the country. Even after the changes, it remains one of the toughest, if not the toughest, in the country. However, several changes to the DUI sentencing scheme make it possible to serve LESS jail than the offender would have served prior to January 1, 2012.
As a side note, these changes, which went into effect at midnight on 1/1/2012, have produced much confusion as to whether they would apply to dates of violations prior to that date. Suffice it to say, now more than ever, you should consult with an experienced DUI attorney since it is absolutely imperative that, if you are to serve jail, that you not serve more than is required by statute.
For sake of simplicity, the following description will assume that you were caught for DUI on 1/1/2012 or after. Here are some of the changes.
1. Serve One Day in Jail
The mandatory minimum for a regular DUI is the same. However, for an unfortunate few, under the old law, one day, did not necessarily mean one day. For example, consider the case of one booked and then released by a judge after spending 23 hours in jail. Under the old law, the minimum was explicitly listed as 24 hours in jail, thus, this unfortunate defendant would have to spend an additional 24 hours in jail.
Now, the minimum explicitly states one day instead of 24 hours. As one might imagine, this now leaves it much more open to interpretation as to what constitutes one day. The 23 hour defendant would most likely receive credit for one day in jail and not be required to have to serve another 24 hours. In fact in practice, far less than 24 hours has been interpreted to mean "1 day". It is important to ask your lawyer how, or if, this affects your case.
2. Get an Ignition Interlock Device, Get out of Jail
Ignition Interlock Devices are gizmos that attach to a car. Before the car will start, the driver has to blow into a tube. If the reading is a .000, then the car will start. If not, it may not. Reports of these alcohol blows are uploaded to a server and stored.
For those unfortunate enough to be sentenced to extreme DUI, under the earlier law, he had to serve 30 days in jail before any additional jail would be suspended. Now, an extreme DUI defendant only has to serve nine days in jail if he equips his vehicle with an ignition interlock device. For super extreme DUI defendants, (alcohol concentration greater than a .20), instead of a 45 day initial jail term, if the defendant installs an ignition interlock device, then he can be released after 14 days in jail.
3. Serve "Jail" at Home
This concept, otherwise known as home detention, has been significantly liberalized. Under the old DUI law, in order to qualify for home detention, the offender must first serve 15 days in jail before being eligible to be released to home detention.
For those sentenced to extreme DUI (greater than .15 alcohol concentration) or super extreme DUI (greater than .20 alcohol concentration), their time in jail can be significantly decreased if approved for home detention. The minimum for extreme DUI is 30 days in jail. The minimum for super extreme DUI is 45 days in jail. Those minimums remain the same. However, whereas before the defendant would have to serve 15 days before being eligible for home detention, now, they have to serve at least 20% of their initial jail sentence before being eligible for home detention. Thus, theoretically, a Defendant sentenced to 30 days in jail, instead of having to do the first 15 days in jail before home detention (home detention for 15 days), can now start serving home detention after six days in jail (20% of 30 days). A super extreme DUI defendant, instead of 45 days initially in jail, can do 20% of that initial jail sentence then enter home detention (or 9 days in jail).
Where it gets really interesting is when one combines the two statutes (the ignition interlock law and the home detention law). For a super extreme DUI, for example, the mandatory minimum sentence is 45 days in jail. If the Defendant obtains an ignition interlock device, that person will only have to serve 14 days of the 45 day sentence. However, if you apply the home detention aspect to this, then he theoretically will only have to serve 20% of the 14 day initial jail sentence before being released to home detention (or 3 days, then 11 days on home detention with the remaining days being suspended). That means that under the old law, you would have to serve a minimum of 45 days (or 15 days jail plus 30 days home detention), and now, theoretically, you would only have to serve 3 days and 11 days home detention (assuming you also have an ignition interlock device).
The difference, therefore, is where the 20% is applied -- the bigger number pre-ignition interlock number or 45 days on a super extreme DUI, or the smaller number, or post-ignition interlock number (14 days for the super extreme). The argument is that the 20% is supposed to be applied to the initial term of incarceration. Defense attorneys argue that "initial" means exactly what it says, that is, that a super extreme DUI defendant, for example, will serve an initial term of 14 days in jail under the new liberalized DUI sentencing statutes. He will not be "initially" serving 45 since the statute allows for a reduction. He will only face 45 days if he does not install the ignition interlock device. The problem is that this argument is not accepted by all judges. Your lawyer will need to fiercely advocate for you in order for you to have a chance of the more "lenient" jail amount.
4. Consult an Experienced DUI Attorney
There exists far more uncertainty, but also, far more room for creativity with regard to sentencing of DUI defendants. Now, more than ever, it behooves anyone charged with DUI to consult with an attorney experienced with DUI before making any decisions in their cases.
DUI in Arizona - The Bottom Line
If you drink, don't drive. But if you do, know your rights. Be respectful to the Officer. Ask to speak to a lawyer in private. Decline the Field Sobriety Tests. Once placed under arrest, agree to the blood test. Request an MVD hearing if your reading is too high. Finally, DO NOT go through this alone. Either hire an attorney experienced in these matters or apply for a public defender. Every DUI case is different. Even seemingly hopeless cases can be effectively fought.
All details about Arizona law are subject to change without notice.