Interviewer: What would you say are the stages of a typical DUI case?
Brian: A DUI case can take a couple of different routes right from the beginning. A lot of it depends on: who the officer is; what the police agency the officer works for; and what court the case is scheduled to be in front of.
Typically, a DUI Investigation Starts with a Minor Traffic Infraction
The case usually starts with an officer finding some reasonable suspicion to pull someone over. Usually it’s an excuse—really any reason to stop someone. A lot of times it can be something like a failure to use a turn signal, making a wide turn, having a crack in their windshield, or having a license plate light out.
Other times it can be due to someone who’s weaving all over the roadway, whose speed is fluctuating or sometimes an officer comes upon a car accident and discovers that one of the drivers is under the influence.
During the Initial Investigation, the Officer Looks for Signs of Alcohol Consumption
Often, an officer will see signs and symptoms that the officer feels is consistent with alcohol impairment. These include bloodshot and watery eyes, the odor of alcohol, slurred speech, and a flushed face. The officer will then have reasonable suspicion to launch into that DUI investigation.
In doing the DUI investigation, the officer will often ask the suspect questions, whether they had consumed alcohol? How much alcohol they had consumed? Where they were heading to? Where were they coming from?
The Officer May Administer Field Sobriety Tests
The officer will often launch into field sobriety tests which will often include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the walk and turn, the one leg stand, the Romberg Modified test. Occasionally an officer will administer the finger to nose test or the finger counting test and rarely, an officer will initiate their own version of the field sobriety tests.
Once the field sobriety tests are concluded, usually the officer will administer a portable breath test result. After getting a reading which the officer may or may not share with the suspect, the officer will often place someone under arrest.
After an Arrest, the Driver Will Be Taken to a Police Station for a Breathalyzer Test
At the time that the person is put under arrest, they are usually transported to a DUI van or a police substation. Once at the DUI van or police substation, the officer will normally administer either a duplicate breath test results or they will draw blood.
On a rare occasion they will draw urine and usually that will only take place if the officer solely believes that the person was under the influence of drugs or meditations. At the time of the breath test or the blood draw, the officer will review what’s called “the admin per se.”
Under Arizona Law, Refusing to Comply with a Chemical Test Results in an Automatic One Year Driver’s License Suspension
Under Arizona Law this is the officer telling the suspect that they have reason to believe that the person was: driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, medications or vapor-releasing substances us and alerting the person that the officer is requesting that the person consent to a blood, breath or a urine sample.
If the person does not consent to the blood, breath or urine sample and it is the officer’s choice as to which chemical test is performed, the officer has the ability to suspend the person’s Driver’s License for one year simply for refusing to submit to the blood, breath or urine test.
The Officer Can Obtain a Warrant to Compel the Person to Provide the Sample
Ultimately, the officer would be able to get a warrant, even if the person did refuse to submit to the blood, breath or urine test. The warrant would allow them to pretty much hold a person down if necessary, to take their blood from them, even if they were to fight.
At that point, the officer can either serve the suspension, which is either going to be one year or two years for refusing to provide a chemical test upon request. Or, it could be for 90 days, based on the theory that the person was impaired by alcohol or drugs or that they will come back with a blood alcohol level test of at or above a .08.
If the Officer Is Charging the Individual with a Misdemeanor, They Are Usually Ticketed at That Time; if the Officer Does Not Issue a Citation, the Individual May Be Facing Felony Charges
At that time, if they are going to be charged with a misdemeanor, the suspect should be provided a citation for DUI and possibly some other civil traffic violations that’s in the discretion of the officer.
On occasion, people will not receive any sort of citation and usually when a person does not receive any sort of citation it can mean one of two things. The officer does not want to give out a citation until the actual blood or urine test results come back, at which point the suspect would be mailed notice to show up in court.
Alternatively, if someone has not received a citation, it could mean that the officer plans on filing a long form which means that the officer intends on filing the charges as a felony. Either a person is told of their upcoming court date or within either one year for a misdemeanor or seven years for a felony, a person will hopefully receive something in the mail that alerts them to an upcoming court date.
After an Arrest and Being Charged, the Individual Is Scheduled for the First Court Date, Which Is Known as the Initial Appearance
The first court dates that a client goes to will be the initial appearance.
The initial appearance has a few purposes behind it. First, it’s to enter a plea of not guilty. That’s kind of a default.
It Is Strongly Recommended that Defendants Retain an Attorney Prior to the Initial Appearance
The other purpose is to determine how the person wants to proceed as far as counsel goes. A defendant at that point, the person who was previously a suspect, is given the option to choose to represent him or herself or they can fill out an application to see if they qualify for a public defender. Or, they can let the court know that they wish to hire a private attorney, utilizing their own funds.
If the defendant has already spoken to a private attorney, and this is strongly recommended prior to that first court date. It is very likely the defendant will not need to show to that first court date. The private attorney can show up on their behalf or can get that court date to go away and a new court date set. By the time the following court date arrives on the calendar, the attorney might have copies of the police report. If not, they really should receive copies of the police report at that upcoming court date.
The Sooner You Retain an Attorney, the Sooner He or She Can Work on the Case and Prepare a Defense
Most of the time, my clients usually do not need to show at that second court date. I would be able to show up on their behalf, gather the police reports and talk informally with the prosecutor. We possibly try to work out a plea agreement or some sort of disposition on the case if I’d had enough time to review the police reports and prepare for that court date.
The court date is usually then continued for another month. In the meantime, it’s possible to write motions, do interviews, work out for a dismissal of the case, work out for a beneficial plea agreement and just prepare the case and let the client know what is likely to take place in the future and what their possible options are.