In the state of Arizona, it is illegal to drive or otherwise have physical control of a vehicle while under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol. A driver arrested under Arizona DUI laws usually faces misdemeanor charges, which carry several severe penalties, including fines, jail time, the attendance at substance abuse courses, community service, a criminal record, and license suspension or revocation. In some instances and with the addition of specific circumstances – including prior convictions within a "look back" period and driving on a suspended or revoked license – a misdemeanor DUI may be a more serious felony charge with harsher penalties.
While law enforcement usually charges a driver at the time of their arrest, there are statute of limitations periods for DUI misdemeanors and felonies in Arizona in which the driver can still face charges. The time periods vary in length, but in both cases, certain circumstances can stop the clock for a period.
Defining Standard DUI in Arizona
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, a DUI occurs when a driver shows a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or higher. In some instances, if the driver has a lower BAC, but shows evidence of obvious impairment from alcohol or drugs, they can also face DUI charges. Drivers with a commercial license face charges when their BAC level is 0.04 percent or higher, and drivers under the age of 21 face charges with any amount of alcohol or drugs in their system.
A standard DUI arrest is usually charged as a misdemeanor, whether it's a first offense or one in a series of offenses. Drivers with this type of DUI will face penalties, including jail time and fines. They may be ordered to attend substance education and treatment courses, perform community service, and equip their vehicles with an ignition interlock device (IID). They will also lose their driving privileges for a determined period of time.
Extreme, Super Extreme and Aggravated DUIs
Extreme and super extreme DUI charges are misdemeanors under Arizona law unless there are other circumstances to change them into felonies. An extreme DUI applies to a driver with a BAC level of 0.15 percent or higher, and a super extreme DUI applies to a driver with a BAC level of 0.20 percent or higher. These offenders faces the same type of penalties that standard DUI drivers face, but they are more severe in terms of money and length of jail time. Any kind of misdemeanor DUI can be become a felony depending on a separate set of circumstances that have nothing to do with blood alcohol content.
An aggravated DUI charge is a felony and its penalties are harsher than those for misdemeanor DUI charges and include prison time. A charge of aggravated DUI applies to a driver who has prior convictions that have occurred within the look-back period, which is the amount of time a drunk driving offense remains on an offender's record, which in Arizona, is 84 months or seven years. Additional circumstances that change a misdemeanor into a felony include:
- Commits a DUI while driving on a suspended, revoked or canceled license.
- Commits a DUI with a passenger in the vehicle younger than 15.
- Commits a DUI or refuses a BAC test while an ignition interlock device is installed.
Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanor DUI
In the case of a misdemeanor DUI, the statute of limitations is one year, according to Arizona statute ARS Section 13-107. Even if the penalties vary, this is true of all misdemeanor DUIs in Arizona. The law also states that the time is "tolled," which means it doesn't start until the state learns about the crime and the identity of the alleged offender, which happens most often at the time of the arrest. Under the statute of limitations for a misdemeanor, a prosecutor may refile charges within the first six months after the final dismissal of the case or within the initial deadline of one year, whichever period is longer.
In some instances, however, there are exceptions to when a person is charged. A driver may commit a DUI offense while visiting Arizona, then return to their home state before being arrested. Or an Arizona resident may move out of state to avoid the charge altogether. Nonetheless, they will have to answer to the penalties eventually because leaving the state stops the clock on the statute of limitations only while they're gone. Another exception occurs when the court drops previous charges before the one-year time limit ends.
Felony DUI Statute of Limitations
In the case of a felony DUI, the statute of limitations in Arizona is seven years, which means that a prosecutor can charge a driver within that time period. They usually do this at the time of arrest for driving under the influence or by the first court date, but some wait for the results of the driver's blood test before filing charges. There may be a dismissal in the case in the event the test results aren't available by the time of the court date, but that doesn't mean the driver is out of the woods – a prosecutor can reinstate charges within the seven-year time limitation period if the driver's BAC level is higher than 0.08 percent, or due to the continuing validity of certain factors in the felony DUI.
According to Law Firms, reinstatement of charges can occur at any time, which means offenders should check routinely for outstanding warrants against them. The more time that passes during the seven-year statute of limitations period, the less chance that a driver will face charges. Some events, like leaving the state, can pause, or toll, the time period during those seven years, but once the driver returns to Arizona, the time to formally charge the driver resumes. Also, if a driver changed their address and never received a summons, the court can issue a warrant for their arrest and charge them with the DUI years after the fact.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.