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.
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.