is a dui a criminal offense

Is a DUI a Criminal Offense?

For the most part, driving under the influence is a criminal offense. This means that a DUI conviction will show up on your criminal record as either a misdemeanor or a felony. DUI offenses will fall under different categories, so the penalties for a DUI conviction also vary.

In this post, our law firm will discuss how several factors affect DUI arrests and DUI convictions in Phoenix, Arizona.

If you’ve been arrested and are worried that your charges may carry jail time, time is of the essence. Call Ybarra Maldonado Law Group for a free consultation. We’ll thoroughly evaluate your case, from the traffic violation that caused got you pulled over to your breathalyzer test results. Lawyers and clients have a confidential relationship, so everything you tell us will remain private.

Is a DUI a Felony or a Misdemeanor in Arizona?

The majority of DUI offenses in Arizona are considered a misdemeanor DUI offense. However, several offenses can also be charged as a felony offense.

In the state of Arizona, every DUI offense involves impairment, either by alcohol or drugs. However, when specific additional factors occur in a DUI arrest, then the DUI becomes a felony offense.

What Constitutes a Felony DUI in Arizona?

is a dui a criminal offense

In Arizona, a DUI becomes a felony DUI when any of the following aggravating factors exist. If someone is driving under the influence and:

  • The person operates the vehicle with a driver’s license suspension. This is a class 4 felony.
  • This is the person’s third DUI conviction in 7 years. It is a class 4 felony.
  • They have a passenger who is under the age of 15. This is a class 6 felony.
  • The person is legally required to have an ignition interlock in their vehicle, and they do not. This is a class 4 felony.
  • They drive the vehicle on the wrong side of the highway. This is a class 4 felony.

Unlike misdemeanor DUI convictions, a driver’s reported blood alcohol level does not matter under Arizona’s aggravated DUI laws.

License Suspensions and DUI Offenses in Arizona

If a person with a license suspension operates a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then he or she will be charged with a class 4 felony under ARS 28-1383. Any person who commits a DUI while their driver’s license is “suspended, canceled, revoked or refused, or while a restriction is placed on the person’s driver’s license” will receive felony charges.

In layman’s terms, if you weren’t legally allowed to drive in the first place, and you were caught driving with more blood alcohol content than legally allowed, then the state of Arizona will harshly punish that behavior.

Importantly, your license doesn’t have to be suspended for any prior alcohol related offenses for this law to apply. It doesn’t matter if this is your first offense for driving under the influence. If your license was suspended for any reason and you were caught driving under the influence, this makes the DUI a felony.

Furthermore, if your license was restricted in any way and you were caught driving under the influence, the DUI becomes a felony. This can happen if you had a previous DUI conviction and ADOT suspended your license, but you qualified for a program that allows you to drive to and from your work. Even though you still had driving privileges, since you had a restricted license, you’ll receive felony charges.

DUI Charges for the Third DUI in Arizona

If you have two prior convictions for a DUI within a 7 year timeframe and you’re caught driving under the influence, then your third DUI can be charged as a felony in Arizona.

When calculating the 7 year span, you must use the time of the first DUI arrest. Do not use the date of the first DUI conviction.

So, for example, a person commits their first offense on January 1, 2015 and isn’t able to get a hearing until a year later, on January 1 2016. The judge finds him guilty. Then he commits another DUI on October 1, 2020. He is found guilty again. Both of these are misdemeanor DUI convictions. If he is charged with another DUI any time before January 1, 2022, he will be charged with a felony.

The courts do not count multiple DUI convictions that are charged on the same day. This is important. There are plenty of times when a person is charged with multiple counts of DUI that arise out of the same incident.

For example, if someone has a blood alcohol content measured at 0.18, then they may be charged with three counts of DUI in Arizona:

  1. Impaired to the slighted degree
  2. Blood alcohol content measured over 0.08
  3. Blood alcohol content measured over 0.15

So, even if the person is convicted of all three criminal offenses, they rose out of a single act.

Driving Under the Influence With a Passenger Under 15

If a person drives under the influence while they have a child under the age of 15 in the vehicle, the DUI offense becomes a class 6 felony. This is the only form of aggravated DUI that doesn’t fall under class 4.

Class 6 felonies are the least serious felonies. Many people consider class 6 felonies, “wobblers”, meaning that they could result in misdemeanor convictions.

Driving Under the Influence With an Ignition Interlock Device

If a person has previously been convicted of drunk driving, then he or she will oftentimes be ordered to install an ignition interlock in his or her vehicle for a specific amount of time (typically 1 year). If he or she drives under the influence and is caught driving without the IID installed, the DUI charge is upped to a felony.

Driving Under the Influence on the Wrong Side of the Highway

In order to understand these pending DUI charges, we must look at the way that the state of Arizona defines the word “highway”. Many people visualize a freeway or a long stretch of road with increased speed limits and no stop lights. But, under Arizona state law, this isn’t what “highway” means.

Under ARS 28-1171, a “highway” is defined as “the entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained by the federal government, the department, a city, a town or a county if any part of the way is generally open to the use of the public for purposes of conventional two-wheel drive vehicular travel.”

So, it’s safe to assume that if you drive under the influence on the wrong side of any public road, you could receive felony charges.

Can I Avoid a DUI Conviction in Arizona?

is a dui a criminal offense

Just because a person was charged with a DUI doesn’t mean that they will receive a felony DUI conviction. An experienced Phoenix DUI defense attorney may be able to reduce your felony DUI charges. They could have them reduced to misdemeanor charges or get them dismissed altogether.

If you have been arrested and think there’s a chance that you may be charged with an aggravated DUI, then developing an attorney-client relationship with a Phoenix criminal defense lawyer before the charges are filed against you can help avoid the criminal charges in some cases.

According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, there are a number of times in which a police officer submits a case and charges are never filed in Maricopa County. A good DUI defense lawyer could argue your DUI case with the prosecution before criminal charges are filed.

Not all DUI cases can be dismissed. But speaking with a criminal defense lawyer serving the Maricopa County area couldn’t hurt. At Ybarra Maldonado Law Group, we offer a free, no obligation consultation. Everything you say to us is considered sensitive or confidential information.

If you simply cannot have a DUI criminal record and need to avoid a felony conviction, our DUI defense attorneys at Ybarra Maldonado Law Group will fight as hard as we can for your freedom. Whether this is your first offense or if you’ve received other penalties previously, our attorneys will fight to help you reduce or avoid jail time. Call 602-910-4040 today for your free consultation.

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