Understanding Arizona's "Super Extreme" DUI Law


Article provided by William Foreman, P.C. Please visit our Web site at www.williamforemanpc.net.

The facts were clear, from the state legislature's point of view: Arizona had a serious problem with its drunk drivers. According to National Highway Safety Administration records, in 2006 Arizona had the sixth-highest number of alcohol-related fatalities in the nation. Statewide, there were almost 600 alcohol-related fatalities in 2006, an increase of 15 percent over the prior year. In response to this large and growing problem, the Arizona legislature recently enacted what may be the toughest DUI laws in the country, creating an entirely new class of "super extreme" DUI offender.

The amount of alcohol one has consumed is often measured by the percentage of alcohol in the blood, as determined by tests of one's breath or blood. The legal limit for drivers is a blood alcohol content — a "BAC" — of no higher than .08 percent. If tests reveal a BAC above .08 percent, a first offender faces 10 to 180 days in jail, fines and court costs, and a 90 day license suspension. The majority of the jail time can be suspended if the offender submits to drug or alcohol treatment. A second offense increases the jail time to a minimum of 90 days — 60 of which can be suspended if the offender completes all recommended treatment and counseling — and a much larger fine. The offender's license will also be revoked for one year.

As BAC rises, so do the potential penalties. A BAC of .150 to .199 triggers what is known as an Extreme DUI. The minimum jail time for a first Extreme DUI offender is 30 days, rather than the 10 day minimum for lesser offenders. Of those 30 days, only 20 can be suspended for completing counseling and treatment. The penalties for a second Extreme DUI offense are similarly increased.

The important new wrinkle in Arizona's latest DUI law, however, is the creation of a third category of DUI offender. Commonly referred to as the "super extreme" DUI (although not actually called that in the enacting statute), those caught driving with a BAC in excess of .20 percent face steep penalties. A "super extreme" DUI offender will spend at least 45 days in jail — unlike the lesser offenses, the court is not allowed to suspend any of this minimum sentence for completion of a treatment program. Furthermore, the fines and costs levied against "super extreme" DUI offenders can be much greater, depending on the actual jail time served.

The penalties for a second "super extreme" DUI offense are particularly stringent. Whereas those convicted of any  DUI charge face a potential jail sentence of up to 180 days, those convicted of a second "super extreme" DUI will receive a flat 180 day mandatory sentence — no exceptions. Fines and costs levied against second "super extreme" DUI offenders will likely be over $4000, and their licenses will be revoked for one year. Moreover, they are not eligible for a work permit during the period of revocation, and reinstatement after the one year period is not automatic.

Along with the increased fines and sentences, those charged under the new "super extreme" DUI provisions also face other hardships. For instance, DUI offenders are required to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicles, after which they will have to pass a Breathalyzer-type test before their cars will start. Aside from the minor inconvenience of having to blow into a sensor every time one wants to go to work or run an errand, the device also costs approximately $100 to install and $80 per month to maintain. Whereas these devices are required to be maintained for 12 months after a DUI or Extreme DUI conviction, after a "super extreme" DUI conviction drivers are required to maintain them for 18 to 24 months. This amounts to a potential total cost for the device of more than $2000, above and beyond any potential fines and court fees.

Many advocates have described the penalties established under Arizona's new DUI laws as excessive, and several cases have been brought in Arizona's courts challenging the legality of the statute. For now, however, it is a good idea for Arizona drivers to keep these harsh penalties in mind before they get behind the wheel after having a drink.