A first-offense DUI is class 1 misdemeanor in Arizona. Penalties include 10 days in jail, a 90-day license suspension, at least $1,250 in fines, an alcohol and drug screening, traffic school, and using an ignition interlock device for a year. But the minimum jail sentence and fines are harsher if the defendant’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.15% or higher.
In this article, our Arizona criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What qualifies as DUI?
- 2. What are the penalties for a DUI first in Arizona?
- 3. Will my license get suspended?
- 4. What are the defenses?
- 5. Can a DUI get set aside?
1. What qualifies as DUI?
Arizona law defines driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs as either:
- Driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher; or
- Driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs even to the slightest degree and even if the driver has a low BAC.
Therefore, drivers exhibiting no impairment face Arizona DUI charges as long as their BAC is 0.08% or higher. It does not matter that they are driving safely.
Conversely, drunk drivers face Arizona DUI charges even if their BAC is below the legal limit. It does not matter if they are only slightly inebriated.1
Arizona has three classes of DUI depending on the defendant’s BAC:
- DUI (also called ordinary DUI, impaired DUI, or DUI per se): 0.08% to 0.149%
- Extreme DUI: 0.15% to 0.199%
- Super Extreme DUI: 0.20% and higher2
The higher the BAC, the harsher the punishment.
2. What are the penalties for a DUI first in Arizona?
All first-time DUI convictions in Arizona are class 1 misdemeanors carrying the following punishments:
- 90-day driver’s license revocation;
- An ignition interlock device (IID) for 1 year;
- Drug and alcohol screening, education, or treatment;
- Traffic survival school course; and
- Possibly community service
The jail time and fines for DUI-firsts in Arizona turn on the defendant’s BAC:
||Arizona DUI-first penalties|
(BAC of .08% to .149%)
(BAC of .15% to .199%)
|Super Extreme DUI
(BAC of .20% or higher)
Note that a drunk/drugged driving incident counts as a DUI first as long as the driver did not have a prior DUI within the last seven years. Second offense DUIs and third offense DUIs in a seven-year period carry increasingly harsher sentences.3
Also note that a first-time DUI is prosecuted as a felony aggravated DUI if the defendant was driving on a suspended license or transporting a child under 15 years old, or if the defendant was driving on the wrong side of the road.4 DUI causing serious injury or a fatality can be prosecuted as aggravated assault or manslaughter.
3. Will my license get suspended?
A first offense DUI in Arizona triggers a 90-day license suspension.5 The only way a defendant can avoid this suspension is by winning the criminal case and the MVD hearing with the Arizona Motor Vehicles Department (MVD). Winning one case but not the other will still result in the defendant’s driving privileges being revoked.
MVD hearings resemble trials in that both sides can offer evidence and cross-examine witnesses. But since the MVD hearing is administrative and not criminal, the MVD needs very little evidence to find against the defendant and suspend his/her license.6 In contrast, criminal courts must find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before the license can be suspended.
4. What are the defenses?
There are many defense strategies that attorneys can use in an effort to get an Arizona DUI case dropped. Eight potential DUI defenses are:
- The defendant was never in actual physical control of a vehicle, and someone else was driving.
- The police officers had no reasonable suspicion to make the initial traffic stop.
- The instructions the police gave for the field sobriety tests were wrong.
- The DUI arrest was not based on probable cause.
- The breath test was conducted without a 15-minute observation period.
- The breathalyzer returned inaccurate blood alcohol content results.
- The blood test samples were contaminated.
- The defendant suffered from a medical condition – such as GERD – that caused the breathalyzer to return falsely high BAC results.
5. Can a DUI get set aside?
Yes, Arizona DUI defendants can ask the court to set aside their case once the case is closed. “Set asides” – which appear on background checks – show that the court has recognized that the defendant has completed all the requirements. Arizona law does not permit criminal cases to be sealed or expunged, so “set asides” are the next best option.7
Contact our experienced attorneys if you’re facing felony or misdemeanor DUI / DWI charges. Our DUI lawyers serve clients throughout Arizona, including Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, and more.
- ARS 28-1381; see also State v. Clark, (Ariz. Ct. App. 2020) 472 P.3d 544.
- ARS 28-1382.
- ARS 28-1381; ARS 28-1382; ARS 28-1383.
- ARS 28-1381.
- ARS 28-1385.
- See Wieseler v. Prins, (Ariz. Ct. App. 1990) 167 Ariz. 223, 805 P.2d 1044, 66 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 40 (MVD hearings use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard.).
- ARS 13-905.