Driving, or otherwise possessing physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in the state of Arizona, as it is in all fifty states. Driving under the influence (DUI) is usually a misdemeanor, but can become a felony or an aggravated charge depending on the circumstances, such as if the driver has had prior drunk driving offenses within a specific time period.
Misdemeanor DUI Laws in Arizona
The Arizona Department of Transportation defines standard DUI as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more while operating a vehicle. However, if a driver has a lower BAC level, and law enforcement suspects impairment from alcohol or drugs, that person can also face DUI charges. A driver with a commercial driver's license who has a BAC level of 0.04 percent or higher and underage drivers with any alcohol or drugs in their system can also be charged with DUI.
Drivers with a higher BAC level can face extreme or "super" extreme DUI charges in Arizona, which are generally misdemeanors, but with higher penalties. Extreme DUI applies to a driver with a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher; super extreme DUI is a charge for drivers with a BAC of 0.20 percent or higher. An offender facing any DUI charge faces severe penalties, which can include thousands of dollars in fines; mandatory jail or prison time; loss of driving privileges; substance abuse education and treatment courses; community service; and the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID).
Definition of Aggravated or Felony DUI
A standard, extreme or super extreme DUI can become an aggravated or felony DUI if a driver meets additional criteria at the time of arrest. Law enforcement assesses the factors, making the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony charge with harsher penalties.
A driver's BAC level has nothing to do with how law enforcement charges someone with aggravated DUI. Four main factors influence the decision to bring about this charge:
- Driving on a revoked, suspended, restricted license (Class 4 felony).
- Driving with a child who is under 15 (Class 6 felony).
- A DUI arrest in a vehicle equipped with an IID (Class 4 felony).
- Prior DUI convictions within a specific period of time (Class 4 felony).
Aggravated DUI Offense – Invalid License or IID
According to Arizona law ARS Section 28-1383, if a driver takes to the wheel on a revoked, suspended or otherwise restricted license, that driver faces felony charges. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) can issue a license revocation, suspension or restriction to a driver for several reasons that are not necessarily the result of a serious crime.
A driver who fails to show up in court or neglects to pay a fine can lose their license. They can also lose their license due to medical issues, insurance law violations or aggressive driving. No matter the reason, if a driver is operating a vehicle on an invalid or suspended license, they are more likely to receive a felony DUI.
Ignition Interlock Devices
A convicted DUI driver usually operates a car with an IID installed for months or years as part of their sentence. While operating the vehicle, the driver must blow into the device to start its ignition. The IID assesses the amount of alcohol in a driver's system; if their breath shows more than the device's pre-programmed limit, the vehicle won't start.
The circumstances for felony DUI rests on law enforcement pulling a driver over on suspicion of impairment, not necessarily on the level of impairment itself. If an officer pulls a driver over with an IID already in their vehicle, they face an aggravated DUI charge.
Prior DUI Convictions or Child Passengers
A driver faces aggravated DUI charges if operating a vehicle while impaired within 84 months, or seven years, of a prior DUI, which can be a standard, extreme or super extreme DUI. As long as it was in that seven-year window, it can make the driver's current DUI a felony.
If a driver has a child under 15 in the car when a DUI arrest occurs, that driver faces aggravated DUI charges. If law enforcement finds a driver drinking or using drugs while in the minor's presence, they will apprehend the driver immediately and impound their car. Law enforcement will also contact Child Protective Services or a family member to bring the child to safety.
Aggravated DUI Penalties
According to the Law Offices of James Novack in Tempe, Arizona, the penalties for aggravated DUIs vary according to the charge's circumstances. For a first-time aggravated DUI (Class 4 felony), a driver faces a minimum of $4,700 in fines and fees, four months to 45 months of jail time, a driver's license suspension, substance abuse counseling, probation, community service and two years of driving with an IID device. For drivers with a first-time aggravated DUI and one prior felony conviction, penalties are generally the same except for the prison sentence, which goes up to 2.25 to 7.5 years. If there is more than one previous conviction, a driver's prison sentence can be from six to 15 years.
For a first offense aggravated DUI (Class 6 felony offense), a driver faces a minimum of $4,700 in fines and fees; one day in jail to two years in prison; a driver's license revocation; substance abuse counseling; probation; community service; and two years of driving with an IID device. For drivers with one prior conviction, the prison sentence increases from nine months to 33 months, and for drivers with multiple convictions, the prison sentence goes up from 2.25 years to 5.75 years.
Felony DUI Statute of Limitations
In Arizona, the statute of limitations for an aggravated DUI is seven years, which means a prosecutor can charge a driver with a felony DUI within that time, according to Law Firms. This usually happens by the driver's first court date, but some prosecutors wait for blood test results to file the charge. If they aren't available by that date, the court can dismiss the case, but that doesn't mean the offender is off the hook. A prosecutor might reinstate charges within those seven years if the driver's test results were higher than 0.08 percent or as a result of aggravating factors.
Some events, like the driver leaving the state, can pause the time in which to file a DUI charge. However, it resumes upon their return. If a driver never receives a summons for whatever reason, the court can issue a warrant for their arrest.
The more time that passes during those seven years without a reinstatement of the charge, the likelihood that it will happen lessens, but it can still occur at any time. A driver facing a charge during that seven-year window should routinely check for outstanding warrants.
- Law Firms: Statute of Limitations for Felony DUI (Aggravated DUI) in Arizona
- Law Offices of James Novack: Arizona’s Aggravated DUI Laws: Understanding Fines and Penalties
- Arizona Legislature: ARS Section 28-1383 Aggravated Driving or Actual Physical Control While Under the Influence
- Arizona Department of Transportation: Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
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.