Arizona DUI Sentencing and Judicial Discretion in DUI Cases

by Aaron M. Black • April 14, 2023

This is the fourth of a six-part series explaining a DUI case from the arrest to beginning a new life

Judge Passing Sentence in DUI Case

After a defendant is convicted by a trial, a judge decides the punishment for driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. If convicted by plea agreement, the sentence is typically stipulated that the judge will accept and follow.

The date of the sentencing is set 30 days from the date of the conviction or the plea agreement in felony or Aggravated DUI cases. However, in courts of limited jurisdiction (justice courts, city courts, municipal courts), the judge may sentence the defendant upon conviction of a misdemeanor. Or the sentencing can be held in 30 days at the request of either the defense or prosecution.

Arizona DUI Laws & Sentencing Guidelines

The sentencing for a misdemeanor or a felony DUI conviction is determined by Arizona’s sentencing guidelines. Felonies are divided into two categories – non-dangerous and dangerous offenses. From there, the ranges are mitigated, minimum, presumptive, maximum, and aggravated for first-time and repeat offenders. Each level increases the length of time of incarceration.

At the sentencing hearing, the convicted offender is taken into custody if a felony Aggravated DUI conviction. If a misdemeanor, the court will allow you to select a self-surrender date.

Mandatory Jail Time in AZ for DUI Convictions

Presentence Report

The Presentence Report contains interviews with the defendant conducted by a Probation Department screener if there is a felony Aggravated DUI conviction. The report covers the defendant’s risk assessment, statements the defendant has made, the defendant’s character, background, criminal history, the sentencing guidelines, financial situation, physical and mental health, the circumstances of the crime, and sentencing factors.

The Presentence Report is provided to the judge to aid in determining factors about the defendant. The finished report is provided to the prosecution and defense attorneys upon request. If either one objects to something in the report, the objection must be submitted in writing and submitted to the judge.

However, the judge has the discretion of taking or not taking any action on the objection.

Judicial discretion

The sentencing guidelines have broad ranges, and a judge has the discretion to choose from the variables unless there is a written stipulation in the plea that the judge accepts.  In doing so, the judge will also consider the defendant’s character, history, and the specifics of the offense. The judge can choose to be more lenient, or not, in making the decision. The judge also will make a choice using the Presentence Report.

The judge also may require the defendant to serve a period of community restitution, and may order a term of probation for up to five years for misdemeanor DUI and up to 10 years for Aggravated DUI, and paying probation fees is a possibility.

Judicial Discretion in AZ DUI Cases

DUI Penalties for a first offense of drunk driving

A first-time Class 1 misdemeanor DUI charge is a serious offense, one step below moving into the felony range and the consequences of a conviction mean a criminal record that will become public.

Under the sentencing guidelines for a first-offense DUI conviction, these are the penalties:

Mandatory jail time

The law requires spending time in county jail up to a maximum of six months and a minimum jail sentence of 10 days.

However, the time in custody can be as short as one day, with the other nine days suspended. The catch is the convicted defendant needs to pay for and successfully finish an alcohol abuse screening and recommended education/treatment. Home detention may be possible after serving one day in jail if the remainder of the sentence is not suspended.

Convicted DUI Driver in Jail

Certified ignition interlock device

Ignition Interlock DeviceThe court may order that all vehicles available to the defendant be fitted with a certified ignition interlock device that prevents the engine from starting if the device detects alcohol on the driver’s breath for one year, which can be reduced to six months if the driver does not have interlock violations, does not have a prior DUI within the last seven years, and was not involved in an accident when the DUI occurred.

The financial burden can be expensive, with minimum fines and surcharges totaling $1,510.50, which includes $500 for public safety equipment and another $500 payable to Arizona’s prison fund. Payment for incarceration can be reduced or eliminated by the court.

Suspended driver’s license

A first-time class 1 misdemeanor DUI conviction also requires the license to drive be suspended for 90 days ( The initial 30 days there is no driving, followed by a restricted permit license for traveling to work or school for 60 days before the license can be reinstated at the defendant’s expense). In 2023 a new law was enacted allowing an individual to acquire the restricted license immediately without the initial 30 days of no driving. However, to obtain the restricted license the DUI must have occurred in on 1/1/2023 or after, must complete an alcohol screening, must install the ignition interlock, and must obtain SR22 insurance.
Suspended Drivers License from DUI Conviction

In addition, a conviction adds eight points against the driver’s license. This will require you to complete Traffic Survival School (TSS). TSS is an 8 hour in person driving class.
However, you can only complete this class once every 2 years. If you have already completed TSS within the 2 year period, your license will be suspended for an additional 90 days.

You may also be required to take out SR-22 (safety responsibility) insurance which is a certificate to prove that the defendant has auto insurance. Note, too, that a first-time DUI will make auto insurance more expensive.

Community service and probation

The court may require the defendant to serve community service, and may order a term of probation for up to five years and paying probation fees is a possibility.

More serious DUI charges, such as a higher amount of alcohol in the blood, prior DUIs by repeat offenders, aggravated DUI, or extreme DUI, significantly increase the penalties for violating Arizona DUI laws.

Arizona's laws and DUI penalties are some of the toughest in the nation

With expensive minimum fines, driving privilege suspensions, driver license points, a mandatory jail sentence, treatment programs, probation, and years of a DUI on your record, Arizona DUIs have quite the penalty.

Police officers & law enforcement take alcohol-impaired driving seriously and will check the driver’s alcohol level with a breathalyzer test. In addition, a blood alcohol content test may be performed as well.

If you were a commercial vehicle driver, you can kiss that occupation goodbye. Working in education or have a professional license? You may lose your job and career path. And don't forget, in Arizona if you have a commercial driver license, the blood alcohol concentration level to be declared impaired is cut in half to .04% for blood alcohol concentration, and it's zero % if you are under 21.

You don't even have to be driving to get a DUI. Arizona’s laws mean you only need to have physical control of a vehicle to have a police officer arrest you for a DUI.


Aaron M. Black Law for DUI defense

Should you or someone you care for be charged or are under investigation for a DUI, it is imperative that you have an experienced DUI defense attorney such as myself to defend you at the earliest possible time. In my long career as an aggressive DUI defense attorney, I know that good people can find themselves in legal trouble and that is why I ensure they have the best defense possible.

Aaron M. Black Law provides personalized legal services. You will always be talking directly to me at every stage of your DUI case.

Begin your DUI defense immediately by calling 480-729-1683 at any time on any day and I will respond promptly unless I am in court on at trial. Or use the online contact form on my website.

I defend DUI cases throughout Arizona, including Maricopa, Pinal, Yavapai, and Coconino County Superior Courts.

Previous: The DUI Arrest -  How to choose a DUI attorney  -  DUI Arraignment - Next: Doing Time After an Arizona DUI Conviction.

About the Author

Aaron Black Phoenix DUI LawyerAaron Black is the founder and sole attorney of the Law Office of Aaron Black. Located in Phoenix, Arizona, his DUI and criminal defense law firm provides legal services to people who have received felony or misdemeanor charges from the state.

Aaron has developed a strong interest in defending people who have been arrested and received criminal charges for driving under the influence. With his professionalism and knowledge of Arizona DUI and criminal law, he has acted as a check and balance on the police, prosecution and courts and has protected a great number of his clients from excessive and unfair sentencing.

Along with DUI defense, Aaron handles a range of other criminal defense matters, including aggravated assault, burglary, domestic violence, drug possession, drug trafficking, fraud defense, insurance fraud, sex crimes, and white-collar crime cases.

After graduating college in 2003 from the University of Arizona, Aaron decided to pursue a law degree. He followed a family long tradition and went to the University of South Dakota School of Law where he pursued his goal of becoming a criminal defense lawyer.

After passing the Arizona and South Dakota bar exams, Aaron joined the Maricopa County Office of the Public Defender where he defended hundreds of people charged with serious criminal offenses. His work as a public defender helped him sharpen his litigation skills and gave him a unique insight into the Arizona criminal justice system.

Over the course of his 15-year legal career, Aaron has spent a considerable amount of time in both Arizona justice, municipal, state and federal courts. He has argued over 50 jury trials, tried over 100 bench trials and has become one of the highest-rated criminal and DUI defense attorneys in Phoenix and the surrounding areas. He has received a 10/10 rating from the legal directory Avvo because of his legal background and successful case record. Since 2014, he has received the Super Lawyer rating for his work as a Phoenix DUI Attorney and criminal defense attorney.

You can review Aaron’s Attorney Bio page for more information about his background, education and experience as a Phoenix DUI and criminal defense attorney.
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