Driving while intoxicated on alcohol or drugs is a serious charge that can lead to harsh penalties that can affect an offender for years, even a lifetime. Arizona’s DUI penalties are known for being some of the – perhaps even the – harshest in the United States. Before getting pulled over for a DUI in Arizona, it’s important that you know what is likely going to happen and the choices you have. The decisions you make in the moments after being pulled over can have a great impact on the overall outcome of your case.

car keys, alcohol, handcuffs and a gavel

The Short Answer: Don’t Drink and Drive

The best way to beat a DUI charge is to not drink and drive, or drive while impaired by other substances (illegal drugs, marijuana, and certain prescription medications that are known to cause impairment) in the first place. Arizona is a zero-tolerance state, so even if you aren’t over the legal limit of 0.08% blood alcohol content (BAC), you can be charged with a DUI if the officer has sufficient evidence and reason to believe you are impaired. If you’re under 21, the officer just needs a reasonable suspicion of impairment, even without clear evidence, to charge you with a DUI. Because DUIs are easily charged with any alcohol or drugs in your system, and because the penalties are harsh and can follow you for the rest of your life, think twice about driving while impaired.

If you are pulled over on suspicion of a DUI nevertheless, here’s what you should know.

Pull Over Safely

Looking in your rearview mirror and spotting flashing lights behind you is enough to make anyone’s hands shake, impaired or not. When you’re being pulled over, it’s best to stay calm. If you try to evade police, a potentially minor interaction with minimal consequences can become a much bigger deal with much more significant consequences. Similarly, if you are ultimately arrested, resisting will only do more harm than good. You’re best off slowing down putting on your turn signal so the officer knows you’re complying, and pulling over at the closest safe place to do so. Then turn off your vehicle, turn off any music you have playing, and turn on your dome lights and hazard lights.

Be Respectful and Cooperative with the Officer

Woman being administered a breathalyzer test

Any interaction with an officer is almost always recorded on the officer’s body worn camera or dashboard camera. As such, the way you speak to the officer will not only affect the interaction you have when pulled over, but it could impact the rest of your case. Acting rudely or combatively will only worsen the situation, paint you in a negative light, and increase the suspicion that you are impaired. 

Do not exit the vehicle unless the officer tells you to. It’s good to prepare your license, registration, and proof of insurance before the officer approaches you, but if you can’t, let the officer know where the documents are located and ask the officer before reaching to get them. For example, tell the officer that your license is in your wallet in your back pocket and your registration and proof of insurance are in the glove compartment. Ask the officer if you may retrieve them and then proceed slowly if the officer gives consent. For your safety, avoid making any sudden movements.

Be Mindful of What You Say

Being polite and courteous with the officer is important, but you don’t have to, and often shouldn’t, answer every question they ask. If you choose not to answer any question, do not lie to the officer, but politely decline to answer the question. If they ask why you’re declining, tell them you are invoking your constitutional right to remain silent and you would not like to answer that question without a lawyer present. The first question officers ask in almost every traffic stop is whether you know why you were pulled over. This is a trick question, and could have you admitting to a violation the officer has no proof of. It’s best to say no and ask the officer why you were pulled over respectfully.

The next question the officer will ask if they suspect a DUI is whether you have been drinking. It’s critical that you don’t lie when answering this question, but also, it’s best practice not to admit to drinking. If you haven’t been drinking, answer truthfully. Otherwise, respectfully decline to answer the question without a lawyer present.

Be Mindful of What You Do

You cannot legally be forced to submit to any testing which indicates whether or not you are impaired without a warrant. If the officer asks you to submit to field sobriety tests, know that you can decline without any sort of consequence. These tests are difficult to pass when sober if you are nervous or if you struggle with balance or have a lack of athleticism.

If you are unsure of whether or not you want to submit to such testing, ask the officer if you can contact a lawyer. If you choose to go ahead with the tests, let the officer know if you have any physical issues that may skew the results, such as issues with your joints or balance. If the officer requests you take a preliminary breath test, which occurs before arrest, feel free to decline without any penalty or ask to contact a lawyer for advice.

In Arizona, once you have been arrested, you are not legally obligated to undergo a blood test or breathalyzer test to ascertain whether or not you’re impaired unless the officer obtains a warrant. However, refusing to take these tests can cause your license to automatically become suspended. It’s best to ask for an experienced attorney who can help you weigh the odds on whether it would be better to take the test or refuse.

Contact an Experienced Arizona DUI Defense Attorney Immediately

If you or a loved one are facing a DUI charge in Arizona, you may be worried for your freedom and your future. With what is widely known as the harshest penalties in the country, Arizona doesn’t go easy on DUI offenders, even if this is their first offense. That’s why it’s essential to hire an attorney to relentlessly fight for you, your freedom, and your future. While the penalties can be hash, a skilled attorney can help you fight for the best possible outcome for your circumstances.

The experienced attorneys at Territorial Law are well-versed in DUI and DWI defense. Our team will review the evidence, the circumstances, and provide a tailored defense that meets your needs. We have been proudly serving the people of Yuma, San Luiz, and Somerton since 1983, and our team has over 60 years of experience in the field. Contact us as soon as you can for a free and confidential consultation. Time is of the essence in providing the best possible defense for DUI charges.