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Your Phoenix DUI Case: The Basics

Last updated: September 30, 2013

You've just left SideBar after having a few drinks with friends. You feel okay, and don't want to spend money on a cab, so you hop into your car. Suddenly, you see flashing red and blue lights in your rearview mirror. You pull to the side of the road, and PHXPD approaches the car, asks for your license and registration and shines his very bright flashlight into your eyes. After a few more questions, he asks if you've been drinking. Then, he asks you to step out of the car for a field sobriety test. As you're completing the test, the DUI van pulls up. The officer takes you inside for a breath test or a blood test, which measures your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Based on the results, the officer reads you your rights, arrests you and takes you to the nearest police station. What's next?

Processing and DUI Charges Filed

You'll spend some time in the police station while an officer looks up your criminal and driving records and considers the evidence against you. Based on your BAC test results and your records, the county attorney will decide what to charge you with. If your BAC was higher than .05 but lower than .08, you can still be charged with a misdemeanor DUI if the officer has evidence that the drinking impaired your driving even to the slightest degree.

If your BAC was between .08 and .15, you'll be charged with a misdemeanor DUI unless you have a past record that would allow you to be charged with a more serious DUI offense. If you're charged with a misdemeanor DUI, the authorities will most likely release you with a citation directing you to appear at the Phoenix Municipal Court or a county justice court on a certain date. However, for more serious DUI cases, you will likely be held until you can make a first appearance where the judge will set conditions of release, including bail.  More serious DUI cases may involve an accident, repeat offenses, driving with a suspended license, or refusal to take a blood or breath test.

MVD Hearing

If you've been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, the police will take your driver's license and give you a temporary permit that allows you to drive until the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) has decided whether or not to suspend your license. Arizona's 15-day rule says that you have 15 days to request a hearing from the MVD, or your license will be automatically suspended for 90 days. At the MVD hearing, an administrative judge will decide whether to suspend your driver's license and the terms of suspension. If you refused a breath, blood or urine test, you may face a mandatory one-year suspension based on Arizona's implied consent law. If you took a breath or blood test and the results showed a BAC of .08 or higher, your license will be suspended for at least 90 days and possibly longer.

At the hearing, you may represent yourself or a private attorney may represent you. You or your attorney will try to convince the administrative judge that the evidence against you is weak, just as you would in a criminal case. You may call witnesses, testify or present evidence. Even if you're later cleared of criminal DUI charges, you will still need to attend the MVD hearing or your license will be suspended based on your arrest alone.

Criminal Case

When you're released from processing, you'll be given notice to appear in court for your arraignment. Arraignments for misdemeanor DUI cases in Phoenix are held at the Phoenix Municipal Court or at one of the Maricopa County justice courts, depending on where the arrest occurred. Arraignments for felony DUI cases are held at one of the Maricopa County superior courts.

At the arraignment, the judge will ask if you have an attorney. If you don't have an attorney, the judge may postpone the arraignment until you've hired one or may direct you to the public defender's office if you can't afford to hire a private attorney. If your attorney is present, the judge will ask what you plea to the DUI charges.

Once you have pled, the judge will give you the date of your next hearing. Your attorney will probably attend a pretrial conference with the prosecutor to discuss the possibility of a plea bargain, which would require you to plead to a lesser charge in exchange for lower penalties against you. In Arizona, if your blood or breath test results in a BAC of .08 or higher, prosecutors are barred from offering to reduce a DUI charge to a reckless driving charge. If you decide to take a plea bargain, you will need to enter the plea in front of the judge, who will then sentence you. If you go to trial and are found guilty, the judge will then sentence you accordingly.

Potential Sentences

If you're convicted of a DUI in Arizona, there are certain penalties that are inevitable, no matter how serious the offense. These penalties include:

  • Jail time -- you will spend at least 24 hours in jail if you're convicted of a DUI.
  • Fees -- You'll pay at least $1,250.00 in fines.
  • License suspension -- the MVD will suspend your license for at least 90 days.
  • Ignition Interlock Device -- you will be required to have a certified ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle for at least six months.
  • Counseling -- the court may order you to undergo drug and alcohol counseling with a state-approved alcohol screening agency.

More serious DUI offenses carry higher penalties than those listed above. Factors that make a DUI charge more serious include repeat DUI offenses, a BAC above .15 or .20 and a DUI while driving on a suspended or restricted license. 

Now that you know the basics of your Phoenix DUI case, check out FindLaw's section on DUI law or find a DUI attorney to help you with your case.