Is Mental Illness a Defense for DUI in Arizona?

27February
2019

We are sometimes asked if mental illness is a defense for DUI in Arizona. As with any other crime, issues of mental competency may be raised in drunk driving cases.

An underlying mental health issue can also be presented by a defense attorney as a mitigating factor during sentencing for a drunk driving offense.

The existence of a mental health issue can explain lapses that lead to drunk driving. We also see cases in which a cocktail of drugs taken to treat a mental disorder impairs driving. Issues such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or a bipolar disorder often fuel alcohol abuse.

Mental health offenders and DUI in Arizona

DUI in Arizona is taken seriously

The Dual Diagnosis website set up by the Foundations Recovery Network points out victims of untreated or undiagnosed mental health issues habitually turn to alcohol or drugs as a form of self-medication. This may lead to impulsive and irresponsible actions such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  The site states:

“Those with certain mental illnesses are less likely to be able to limit their alcohol consumption. Diagnoses such as bipolar disorder or severe anxiety mean that the individual may have trouble finding ‘steady ground,’ even when sober.”

Rule 11 in Arizona may be relevant to drunk driving cases as well as other crimes. Rule 11 states in order for a defendant to be found competent for trial he or she must have a factual understanding of the proceedings being brought and be competent to consult with his lawyer.

Defendants suffering from a serious “mental disease or defect” can claim the insanity defense, although it is used sparingly. This is known as Guilty Except Insane (GEI) in Arizona.

Although many conditions count as a mental disease or a defect, voluntary intoxication or withdrawal from alcohol are not mental diseases in their own right.

In DUI cases, an experienced criminal defense lawyer will also highlight underlying mental health conditions that may have led a defendant to get behind the wheel while drunk. For instance, former service personnel who return from war zones often suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The condition can cause alcohol abuse and lead to a DUI charge. Presenting the underlying circumstances may result in sentence mitigation.

In some cases, police take advantage of mentally ill drivers during a DUI stop. Failure to follow correct procedures are challenged by defense lawyers.

When police or highway patrol officers suspect a motorist of drunk driving, they will usually perform a breath test. When you drink alcohol, your body absorbs the alcohol. It quickly enters the bloodstream. The alcohol will leave your body on your breath. Police officers use this reading on your breath to build a drunk driving case against you.

On occasions, breath tests are inaccurate. A breath test must measure a ‘deep lung’ air sample. When the driver blows into the Breathalyzer’s mouthpiece, the breath creates a chemical reaction that measures your blood/alcohol (BAC) content. In Arizona, you will receive a DUI if your (BAC) is above .08 percent. The figure is .04 for a commercial driver or 0 percent for a driver under 21.

Criminal defense lawyers often challenge the accuracy of the Breathalyzer test for DUI in Arizona. A Breathalyzer is a machine. Its results may be inaccurate due to technical or human errors.

In some cases, software glitches occur on Breathalyzers that produce a false reading. There have been well-documented cases of police departments that fail to correctly calibrate their machines. Breathalyzers need fully working batteries but they are not always supplied.

There are also instances of defective and unreliable breath machines on the market. Even the underlying science of the breath test is in dispute.

Police officers have to be properly trained to use and read the results from Breathalyzers. If an officer has made an error in administering a test, the reading may be inaccurate.

Police must observe the suspect for a 15-minute interval where he or she does not belch, regurgitate, drink anything or smoke. The test must be restarted if this happens. However, law enforcement officers have many distractions and may fail to carry out this test properly.

Other factors can skew a breath test and prove important in your DUI defense. If you suffer from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), acid may rise into your esophagus and mouth. It can render a breath test inaccurate.

Mouthwash and other products that contain alcohol may affect a breath test. Even dentures can store alcohol. People with mental illnesses may appear to be intoxicated due to drugs they take to address the illness.

Breathalyzer tests are not always straightforward, particularly when the readings are borderline. Police in Arizona often fail to follow correct procedures during DUI stops. Results from these stops can be challenged by an Arizona DUI lawyer.

At the Garcia Law Firm, we help people who are charged with drunk driving. We assist people with mental disorders who are stopped and arrested and provide help and advice to their family members. Please call us today at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in DUI, Mental Health | Tagged |

Outlining Arizona’s Unlawful Flight Laws

22January
2019

Failing to stop after being requested to by a police officer or fleeing from police form part of Arizona’s unlawful flight laws.

These offenses vary in seriousness. You can be charged with a Class 5 felony in certain circumstances.

Failure to stop for a police officer or another law enforcement vehicle constitutes a crime under A.R.S. 28-1595. The statute says a driver who knowingly fails or refuses to stop after receiving a “visual or audible signal or instruction” by a police officer or other traffic enforcement official faces a class 2 misdemeanor.

unlawful flight laws

Arizona’s unlawful flight laws

The driver must give an officer the following information on request:

  1. His or her full name.
  2. The driver’s date of birth.
  3. The driver’s residential address.
  4. A brief physical description including sex, weight, eye and hair color, and height.
  5. The driver’s signature.

Drivers who attempt to flee from police officers face being charged with a class 5 felony under Arizona’s unlawful flight laws. A felony charge may be brought if the driver seeks to outrun or outmaneuver any law enforcement vehicle with official markings.

A prosecutor must prove you intended to flee the stop rather than making a mistake or not realizing you were asked to pull over. The state needs to show a driver knew a law enforcement officer signaled them to pull over, and then failed to do so.

The prosecution must prove that the driver willfully attempted to escape police to prove unlawful flight took place. The state must also provide evidence that the vehicle driven by police was officially marked.

What is the Definition of Unlawful Flight in Arizona?

Under Arizona statute 28-622.01, a driver commits unlawful flight when he or she “willfully flees or attempts to elude a pursuing official law enforcement vehicle” properly marked as a law enforcement vehicle.

Drivers are not required to stop immediately if it’s dangerous to do so. They can wait to pull into a safe place for a highway patrol or police officer. If it’s dangerous to stop on the highway, they have a right to drive to a safe place to stop.

In some cases, drivers may fail to notice a police officer is trying to pull them over. This is a legitimate defense to the felony although it can be hard to prove.

Given that a class 5 felony can land you in prison for two years facing fines of up to $150,000, you should hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to fight these charges. Please call the Garcia Law Firm at (602) 340-1999.

Posted in Arizona Laws, DUI | Tagged |

How to Deal with your First DUI

5April
2016

Have you been charged with your first DUI? If you find yourself consumed with feelings of fear or confusion stemming from your recent arrest, you’re not alone.

Hundreds of people were arrested for DUI in Arizona during 2015, a trend that has not slowed well into the new year. Should you ever find yourself accused of driving under the influence, it’s essential you know what legal options are available to you.

Avoiding Arizona DUI

The first thing to keep in mind is your composure. Whether you have alcohol in your system or not, being pulled over by an officer of the law can be a frightening experience. Take a deep breath and remain calm, don’t allow your anxiety to work against you.

woman being pulled over for Arizona DUINever say anything that could potentially incriminate you. While police officers have an important role in keeping the road safe, they often use their experience to elicit information that can damage your case in court.

Be respectful of the questions asked by the officer but know you’re not legally required to answer them. Politely decline to answer anything that would confirm the officer’s suspicion that you’re driving under the influence.

Under no circumstance should you consent to a field sobriety test. Many people suspected of a DUI don’t understand that such tests are optional. Even if you’re confident you’ll pass, common breathalyzers are notoriously inaccurate and their results can be utilized in court to incriminate you. You should only comply with a legally required blood alcohol test typically taken at the police station.

Record the details of your arrest as soon as possible. You want to ensure any information that be used to defend your innocence can be referred to at a later time. Even the tiniest details might make the difference between a not guilty verdict and a jail sentence.

Finally, contact an experienced DUI attorney. Even if you’re convinced your innocence is clear cut, consulting with a professional ensures you choose the appropriate course of action to avoid the stiff penalties associated with an Arizona DUI — the most severe in the nation.

Don’t hesitate — contact our law firm now to discuss the details of your case.

Posted in Arizona, Arizona Laws, DUI | Tagged , , , |

Putting DUI Laws in Context

28December
2014

We’d like to believe nobody is above the law and yet our legal system is far from perfect. In a story that certainly has brought about much scrutiny, a Florida judge convicted of her second DUI and reckless driving received probation, a $2,500 fine in court related fees and community service — she won’t spend a single day in jail, leaving many casual observers crying foul. Is this simply a misunderstanding of how the law works or is it something more?

Whereas a more pointed question might be what the average sentence is for second time DUI offenders in that district, it’s easy to jump to conclusions here. Do a little probing and you’ll quickly find that many states don’t actually hand down jail time for a first or second DUI-related offense. Look at the facts of the case and you could just as easily deduce the judge in this case received an average sentence — most practicing attorneys in the state of Florida would be quick to corroborate.

The bigger issue at hand is perhaps whether certain DUI-related laws are too flexible in some parts of the country. Here in Arizona, where first time offenders typically receive jail time and zero tolerance laws are in effect, it’s easy to take exception to these stories. Stiff penalties don’t always prove a deterrent and many fatalities involve alcohol; if the ultimate aim is to drive down these grizzly statistics, perhaps it’s time to revisit the drawing board for better solutions.

There’s a lesson here — the public cannot overreact to headlines and certainly requires putting these items in context before issuing judgment. For legislators, it’s long overdue that we prioritize spreading DUI awareness over stiff penalties if we truly want to drive down accident statistics. Remember not to drink and drive and to contact an experienced attorney to handle your case if arrested.

Posted in DUI | Tagged |

Can Ride Sharing Services Curb Holiday DUI?

16November
2014

Does the ride sharing phenomenon occurring throughout the nation ultimately hold the answer to curbing DUI statistics around the holiday? That answer might be clear when you consider a recent press release published by Uber.

Pennsylvania is the fourth-highest state for DUI related fatalities, an unsightly blemish by any measure. Alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths exceed the national average here by nearly 24%, and alcohol is responsible for nearly 38% of all motor vehicle fatalities.

Data from Uber’s Pennsylvania market shows that trip requests spike during the night, and particularly during the weekends. These are times when DUIs are considered the greatest threat. In areas where bars shut down at 2 AM, the data shows this is the most popular time to request a ride through Uber.

While the problem may not be as pronounced here in Arizona, driving under the influence is a major public safety concern across America. The problem becomes especially worse during the holiday – people attend holiday parties and travel back and forth to visit with family and friends.

For many people during the holidays, every destination presents the potential of consuming alcohol – something that spells major trouble for DUI-related crime during this season. How long will it be before we see ride sharing services curb statistics in Arizona?

Arizona is one of several states where ride sharing services are currently operational. After fighting many public battles on a state-by-state basis, primarily involving the old regime of traditional taxi services, Arizona is one place where you can actually utilize services like Uber.

There is little denying that giving more people incentive to use a taxi – offering highly-rated customer service and lower fees – can help prevent statistics from ballooning. Ride sharing services may not provide the ultimate solution to ending DUI altogether, but they certainly do come in handy around the holiday.

Original story provided by Uber.

Posted in DUI | Tagged , |

Do Marijuana DUI Laws Go Too Far?

2November
2014

Does a recent ruling that permits medical users of marijuana to be prosecuted for DUI effectively wipe out the benefits of legal usage? No matter what side of the fence you find yourself regarding marijuana DUI, there’s no denying the great amount of controversy the latest legislation has created.

The controversy should concern any medical user prescribed marijuana. These individuals could potentially be prosecuted for DUI as the drug remains in their system following usage. Any trip behind the wheel suddenly carries some of the heftiest penalties for driving under the influence within the country.

Testing for marijuana has been considered unreliable in assessing DUI penalties, drawing immense scrutiny from card carrying users. Some view the new legislation as simply whitewashing the newly legalized marijuana laws in Arizona. Giving medical users of marijuana reason to fear operating a motor vehicle – even when their motor skills are not impaired – could potentially prevent the drug from being used altogether in some cases.

Another concern is whether these laws actually make the road any safer for drivers. There is little data to support whether medical marijuana has created an uptick in fatal accidents in Arizona, considering how recently the laws came into effect. Critics argue penalizing these drivers only saddles them with a criminal record without preventing avoidable death along roadways.

Is there any sense in prosecuting such DUIs? There are legitimate concerns regarding marijuana in relation to driving. Some studies have shown that the drug can significantly impair a driver’s ability to react and subsequently increase the likelihood of an accident. Although there is little hard evidence in place to determine how long marijuana affects its users, it’s not hard to understand why it may be penalized similarly to alcohol.

The bottom line is that Arizona considers itself a ‘zero-tolerance’ state, for better or worse. If you ever find yourself arrested for DUI, never hesitate to contact an experienced attorney.

Posted in DUI | Tagged |