In the state of Arizona, driving under the influence (DUI) or otherwise having control of a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs is against the law. A DUI offense is usually a misdemeanor unless there are specific circumstances in play during a traffic stop, such as driving with a minor passenger or with an invalid or suspended license, among others, which can make it a felony charge. Felony DUIs carry more significant penalties than misdemeanor DUIs.
Misdemeanor DUI and BAC
A driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level determines whether they'll face standard, extreme or "super" extreme DUI charges, which are misdemeanors. The Arizona Department of Transportation describes a standard DUI as the operation of a vehicle by a person with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher. But a driver can face DUI charges with a lower BAC if they show obvious signs of impairment. Drivers who possess a commercial driver's license face arrest with a BAC of 0.04 percent or higher, and minor drivers face arrest with any amount of alcohol or drugs in their system.
A driver with a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher faces an extreme DUI charge, while a driver with a BAC of 0.20 percent or more faces a super extreme DUI. Any drunk driving charge carries harsh penalties, including mandatory jail or prison time; fines; driver's license suspension; classes in substance abuse education or treatment; community service; probation; and the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for several months or even years.
Definition of Felony DUI
Whether standard, extreme or super extreme, a misdemeanor DUI can become a felony if there are extenuating circumstances in play at the time of a driver's arrest. Law enforcement assesses these factors at the time of the incident to gauge if the arrest should be a misdemeanor or felony.
In Arizona, a felony DUI has little to do with BAC levels. Instead, it relies on these main factors:
- The vehicle operator is in possession of a revoked, suspended or restricted license while under suspicion of DUI, a Class 4 felony.
- Impaired driving of a vehicle with an IID installed, also a Class 4 felony.
- The driver has prior DUI convictions within a specific period, another Class 4 felony.
- The driver has a passenger under 15 years old, a Class 6 felony.
Minors, Prior Convictions and Felony DUI
Arizona law ARS Section 28-1383 states that having a passenger under 15 years old when a DUI arrest occurs can cause a driver to face felony charges. If an officer finds a driver was impaired by the influence of alcohol or drugs while in a minor's presence, they will impound the vehicle, arrest the driver immediately and contact Child Protective Services or a family member to pick up the minor.
Prior convictions within 84 months (or seven years) of a DUI arrest can also cause a driver to face felony charges. Any misdemeanor – standard, extreme or super extreme – or a felony within that period can make the driver's current DUI a felony.
IID, Invalid License and Felony DUI
Drivers who get behind the wheel without a valid license face felony DUI charges if law enforcement stops them for suspicion of impairment. A license revocation does not have to result from a serious criminal charge; it can occur due to a medical issue, failure to show up in court or to pay tickets, violations of insurance law, or aggressive driving. If a driver loses their license for any reason and continues operating a vehicle while impaired, they are likely to face a felony DUI.
IID installation occurs from a court order after a DUI conviction and can last for a number of months or years. Before operating a vehicle, the driver must blow into the IID to start the ignition and may have to do so every 15 minutes to keep driving. The device assesses the alcohol in a driver's system; if a driver shows impairment as registered by the IID's pre-programmed limit, the car won't start, or it will shut down mid-drive. If law enforcement pulls over a driver with an IID already installed in their vehicle, they face a felony DUI.
Felony DUI Penalties in Arizona
The penalties for felony DUI vary by class and the number of prior convictions. A Class 6 felony is a lower charge than a Class 4 felony, so a driver with a minor passenger in the motor vehicle faces about $4,700 in fines; up to two years of jail time; a loss of their driver's license; probation; community service; drug and alcohol counseling or education courses; and IID device installation for two years, according to the Law Offices of James Novack. For drivers with one prior felony conviction, prison time increases from nine months to 2.75 years. Offenders with more than one prior conviction face a prison sentence from 2.25 years to 5.75 years.
A Class 4 felony DUI charge results in many of the same penalties but with different jail or prison terms, depending on the circumstances:
- A first-time felony DUI with one previous felony conviction: 2.25 to 7.5 years in prison.
- A first-time felony DUI with more than one previous felony conviction: six to 15 years in prison.
Arizona DUI Statute of Limitations
A felony DUI in Arizona has a statute of limitations of seven years. This means the court has that amount of time in which to charge a driver. In some instances, a prosecutor will wait for the results of a blood test before making a formal charge, but if the results aren't available by the court date, there can be a dismissal. However, that doesn't mean that the prosecution can't take the case up again. It may still reinstate charges within the seven-year period. After three years, the likelihood of a DUI charge lessens, but it can still occur, according to Law Firms.
If the offender leaves the state, time will stop or "toll" on the statute of limitations, only to resume upon that person's return. If a driver ignores a summons, the court can issue a warrant for their arrest during that time. Any driver facing a felony DUI charge should consistently check for outstanding warrants during those seven years.
- Arizona Department of Transportation: Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- Arizona Legislature: ARS Section 28-1383 Aggravated Driving or Actual Physical Control While Under the Influence
- Law Offices of James Novak: Arizona’s Aggravated DUI Laws: Understanding Fines and Penalties
- Law Firms: Statute of Limitations for Felony DUI (Aggravated DUI) in Arizona
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.