Zero tolerance, DUI and Arizona state law

Arizona is tough on drunk driving. In those who are not actually driving a vehicle or who have a BAC below the legal limit can face charges.

Getting pulled over for drunk driving is an intimidating process. When those red and blue lights flash in your rearview mirror, you may have a moment to think "but I only had one drink, I'm clearly not drunk." Although you may be well under the 0.08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) many have come to associate with as the standard for drunk driving, the officer may still move forward with drunk driving charges.

Wait. I can still get charged with drunk driving even if I am not drunk? Unfortunately, the answer to this one is yes. A driver in Arizona can get charged with driving under the influence (DUI) without actually exceeding the legal limit of 0.08 BAC. The officer only needs evidence to support the contention that you were impaired.

State law provides some limitations. In most cases, the charges cannot stand if the BAC is under 0.05 percent. However, there are some exceptions. Two common examples include drivers who are under the age of 21 and those who have a commercial driver's license.

What if I am not even driving? There are some circumstances that can result in a DUI charge even when the person accused of the DUI was not driving a vehicle. The Arizona Department of Transportation states that the person facing the charges must be in "actual physical control" of a vehicle, not necessarily driving the vehicle. This phrase can mean that a driver was merely sitting in the driver's seat of the vehicle at the time of the accusation. Even if the vehicle is off, if the driver has the keys he or she could face DUI charges.

This was supported in a recent interview of the Glendale Police Chief in The Arizona Republic. In the interview, the officer stated that having the key in your pocket while sitting in the driver seat of the vehicle is enough to support a charge that you were in "physical control" of the car.

What should I do if I face DUI charges in Arizona? First, it is important to take the charges seriously. Penalties for a DUI in Arizona are harsh. Even a first offense comes with mandatory prison time and required installation of an ignition interlock device. Second, seek legal counsel. An experienced attorney can craft a defense to your situation. In some cases, this will involve a review of the stop, in others a review of how evidence was gathered and handled to support the charges. If proper protocol was not followed, the charges could get thrown out.