The Arizona DUI Process

The Arrest: A DUI stop and arrest most often occurs when a police officer observes a traffic violation, but can also occur at sobriety checkpoints. An officer is required to follow certain rules during the stop and arrest process, including having a substantial reason to conduct a DUI investigation, and reading the driver Miranda rights (which include the right to remain silent and speak to an attorney). A chemical blood / breath alcohol concentration (BAC) test will be a part of this stage as well. The testing may be done at a mobile BAC station, police station, or hospital. If a driver does not consent to BAC testing, the officer may obtain a search warrant by which to forcibly obtain a bodily fluid sample.

Booking: The majority of people arrested for a first time DUI will not be booked into the county jail. Those who are booked, however, will be searched, questioned, photographed, and processed into a cell. Upon release (usually after a friend or family member arranges for bail), a person will be able to obtain information regarding court dates, etc.

The Investigation: For a first time DUI, the police will most likely have all the information they need from the arrest and subsequent BAC testing. The police officer will probably issue a citation to the person at the time of the arrest with the name of a county justice court or city municipal court and a court date. For aggravated DUI’s, the prosecutor, along with the police department, may investigate the driving record and possible criminal record of the accused. The prosecutor’s office will then file official charges, called a Supervening Indictment.

First Appearances / Preliminary Hearings: If a person is booked into jail following a DUI arrest, he/she will typically be granted a hearing within twenty-four (24) hours. At this hearing, the judge will determine if bail is to be set and if there needs to be any other conditions of release. If bail is paid and the defendant fails to appear at his/her next scheduled hearing, the bail will be forfeited and a warrant issued for the defendant’s arrest. A preliminary hearing may be conducted in felony (aggravated DUI) cases in order for the judge to decide if there is enough evidence to send the case to the Superior Court. Money or collateral is not always required before a defendant can be released. A person can be released “on their own recognizance” which means that the judge believes the defendant’s ties to the community and/or lack of prior criminal history is enough to guarantee that he/she will show up for all court appearances.

The Arraignment: This is the proceeding where the defendant is formally informed of the charges in court, and a plea is entered (either guilty, not guilty, or no contest).

The Pre-Trial Conference: This is a proceeding in which the defense attorney and prosecutor can negotiate in order to work out a “deal”. This may involve pleading guilty to some or all of the charges. No defendant is under any obligation to accept a “deal” and has a constitutional right to have the charges determined by the court.

Motions and Hearings: The defendant’s attorney will address matters of contention with the court by presenting them in the form of motions. This can include the admissibility of evidence and procedural issues (for example, if the police officer acted appropriately during the course of the DUI arrest and investigation). Witnesses may testify at the hearing(s). Depending on the nature of the issue presented at a hearing, it is possible that the case against a defendant may be dismissed at this stage. Even if dismissed, it is always possible that the state may appeal that decision.

The Trial: In Arizona, every DUI defendant has the constitutional right to a trial by jury. It is possible for a defendant and the State to waive the right to a jury trial and instead opt for a bench trial where a judge decides the issues and facts. At the trial, both the prosecutor and the defense attorney will be able to make opening statements, present evidence and witnesses (including the officer who conducted the DUI investigation), and make closing statements. The prosecution has the burden of proof to prove all elements of the crime the defendant is accused of. The defense attorney will have the opportunity to ask the court to dismiss the case, based on the fact that the state failed to present evidence that could reasonably lead to a conviction. After the presentation of all the evidence, the jury (or judge during a bench trial) will have the opportunity to deliberate and return a verdict, which is read in open court.

The Sentencing: Often times a defendant is sentenced immediately after a guilty verdict or the entering of a plea of guilty. There may be a delay of up to thirty (30) days before sentencing. All classifications of offenses in Arizona have a ‘presumptive’ sentence, or the average sentence that the legislature believes a person guilty of a particular offense should serve. At the sentencing, the judge may take into consideration different factors that may increase or decrease this presumptive sentence.

The Appeal: Based on issues presented throughout the course of the entire process, a defendant may appeal a conviction all the way to the Supreme Court. Likewise, the state may appeal the dismissal of a conviction.