Arizona’s Holiday Season DUI Enforcement Operating in Pandemic

by Aaron M. Black • November 25, 2020

Police DUI CheckpointsThe pandemic may make our holiday season less merry but the virus is not going to stop law enforcement in Arizona from aggressively enforcing our tough zero tolerance DUI laws. Their goal is to save lives during one of the most deadly times of the year for impaired driving crashes.

Sheriff’s deputies and city police officers, from Thanksgiving through Christmas and the New Year’s holidays, observe the season for stepped-up DUI patrols, stops and arrests.

Authorities use two tactics in searching for impaired drivers in this festive time, the rolling stop and sobriety checkpoints. Officers presumably will wear masks and observe social distancing at a “safe” distance as much as possible among other precautions.

Rolling stops and checkpoints

A rolling stop is when a traffic officer on the roadway suspects a motorist is impaired because of a traffic violation such as weaving across lane lines or driving at night without headlights turned on. Such violations amount to probable cause or a reasonable suspicion of impairment. These are the legal grounds to stop the vehicle.

Checkpoints skirt the legal grounds necessary for a rolling stop to detain someone. These checkpoints are set up at various locations around Maricopa and other counties so officers can assess if a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Checkpoints have been challenged as unconstitutional but the US Supreme Court in 1990 ruled 6-3 they do not violate the Fourth Amendment guarding against unlawful searches and seizures. Dissenting from that decision Justice John Paul Stevens described sobriety checkpoints as “elaborate and disquieting publicity stunts.”

The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends aggressively using these two tactics in the agency’s annual holiday public relations campaign to get impaired drivers off of the roads. For 2020, the theme is “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.”

Arizona’s slightly impaired rule

A driver can be detained in Arizona if he or she is impaired to the “slightest degree.” That can be less than the state’s baseline legal limit of a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent.

Slightly impaired can be different from individual-to-individual depending upon their size, weight, if the person had something to eat before drinking, the rate at which their metabolism absorbs alcohol, and if the person is an experienced drinker and has developed a tolerance to alcohol.

Impairment by the numbers

Blood Alcohol ContentThese are the NHTSA’s “predictable effects” at various levels of percentage of impairment and what traffic officers are looking for in drivers when they make the traffic stop:

.02 – Some loss of judgment, relaxation, slight body warmth, altered mood

.05 – Exaggerated  behavior, maybe loss of small-muscle control such as focusing eyes, impaired judgment, usually good feeling, lowered alertness, release of inhibition

.08 – Poor muscle coordination such as balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing, difficulty detecting danger, impaired judgment, less self-control, reduced reasoning, and memory impairment

.10 – Slurred speech, poor coordination, slow thinking, deterioration of reaction time and control

.15 - Significant loss of balance, significant loss of muscle control, vomiting may happen unless this level is slowly reached or the individual has a tolerance for alcohol

The NHTSA in general reports that one drink equals 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor, a 5-ounce glass of wine has 12 percent alcohol, and 12 ounces of beer has 4.5 percent.

The sobriety checkpoint

On the road you will notice traffic officers directing you into a single line with officers standing on the road and stopping vehicles. But not all of them. About half of the vehicles are motioned to go ahead.

The vehicles that are not motioned to move are approached by an officer who is there to detect alcohol on the driver’s breath or open containers of alcohol including any empty cans. If you are transporting alcohol, it is best to place the bottle or cans out of the passenger cabin. If the container is open, it must travel outside of the cabin to avoid trouble.

How to act at a checkpoint

DUI Checkpoint BehaviorWhen your vehicle is stopped at the checkpoint, the officer shines a flashlight into the cabin and asks if you’ve had anything to drink tonight, with the goal of building a case against you or letting you go. While it may seem an innocent question it is most serious. It is followed by asking how much alcohol have you had to drink, and other questions.

There is no reason for you to advance the officer’s suspicion. The most effective response is not giving into the officer’s attempt to get you to incriminate yourself. Simply politely say that you are invoking your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Anything you do say becomes evidence, so silence is in your best interest.

You also have the right under the Sixth Amendment to have an attorney present during questioning to protect your constitutional rights.

However, if you refuse testing your driver’s license can be suspended.

Phantom checkpoints

Sometimes authorities post signs warning that a sobriety checkpoint is ahead. But it is not. The sign is placed so you cannot see too far ahead such as near a curve in the road and a dummy police vehicle may be used to add credibility to the trick.

If you attempt to avoid the checkpoint by abruptly turning around, a hidden officer will see your attempt to avoid the checkpoint and you have just given the officer a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to pull you over.

If you are detained

If you are suspected of impaired driving, the officer will perform a series of sobriety screenings. These include balancing on one leg, standing heel to toe, walking a straight line and turning, exhibiting slurred speech, and involuntary jerking of eyes. The officer may be able to detect alcohol on your breath.

After these screenings, the officer will ask you to breathe into a machine that determines if there is alcohol in your system. Drivers who test above the legal limit will be arrested. The vehicle can be towed away or a member of your party can drive it home.

Common DUI defenses

Every case is different and some of these defenses may not apply.
  • Police did not have a legal reason to pull you over
  • Faulty police paperwork
  • The field sobriety tests were not properly administered
  • Breath tests can be flawed because the breathalyzer gave a false reading
  • Blood tests were faulty or the sample was contaminated
  • The officer did not recite your Miranda rights to remain silent
     

Free confidential case consultation

Aaron Black Scottsdale & Phoenix DUI AttorneyIf you get caught in a sobriety checkpoint or on the road, you need immediate legal advice because jail time and large fines can be imposed if you are found guilty. Find out how you stand by taking advantage of my free case assessment without any obligation to hire me to defend you.

To get my advice simply call my 24-7 hotline, 480-729-1683, to schedule your free consultation or use my online contact form and I will promptly respond unless I am in court. I have a strong record of fighting hard for every one of my clients and I provide personalized service. You will always be talking directly to me.

With the pandemic we can meet online using FaceTime and we can use the telephone, email and text to stay in touch.

I defend DUI cases in the justice, municipal, state, and federal courts in Maricopa and its surrounding counties.

 
In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to inform clients and potential clients I am still available for consultations. I am always available by phone, text and/or email. We can also use Facetime for social distancing. The criminal justice system is not stopping due to COVID-19.

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