DUI Myth # 1. I will only get stopped for a DUI if I am driving all over the road. FALSE. Officers aren’t just out looking for erratic driving. I would say about half of all people stopped, who ultimately get arrested for DUI, are driving just fine, but their license plate light is out, they forgot to turn on their headlights, they made a wide turn, didn’t use a turn signal, didn’t stop properly for a red traffic signal or stop sign, etc. The truth is, if you are out driving at a certain time of the night, or the early hours of the morning, law enforcement knows that it is likely you are drunk. They will find any reason to stop you, just to see if you truly are driving under the influence. If an officer wants to pull you over, they will find a reason. There is a flaw in Arizona law that says that if an officer “suspects” that you committed a traffic offense, then it is a legitimate stop. That means there doesn’t need to be any actual proof, only the officer’s claim that there was a traffic offense committed. It is no wonder that officers don’t have video cameras operating in their vehicles. Wouldn’t want actual proof to confirm or rebut what an officer says. There was one officer who, interestingly enough, seemed to pull over numerous people for having a license plate light out. Legitimate reason to stop a person, as it is a violation of the Traffic Code, but it is simply amazing that nearly everyone stopped had their license plate out while driving… yet magically it was working after the car stop. Judge would say it was fine, because the officer said the license plate was out while driving, even if it came back on afterwards.
DUI Myth # 2. I can’t get a DUI charge or conviction, I don’t drink alcohol. FALSE. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more common to be charged with non-alcohol DUIs. We are seeing more and more Drug DUI cases, which not only include the typical illegal drugs: cocaine, marijuana, meth, etc.; but also Prescription Medications. That’s right, people are getting charged with driving while being ‘impaired’ by the prescription medications that they were prescribed by their doctors. It is not uncommon to see a person being charged with DUI, and they say that they have been taking the same medication for years, yet the officer says they were swerving on the road, and since a blood test didn’t reveal any alcohol or illegal drugs, but did reveal prescription medications, the prosecution will argue that that was the culprit that caused the swerving, and that they should be convicted of DUI. It is quite amazing, and completely unfair, but that will likely have to be a matter for the jury. The fact that one was taking Prescription Medications is not a defense to DUI-Impaired to the Slightest Degree. Also, remember how Marijuana is legal for medicinal uses. And a doctor has to evaluate someone before they can get a Medical Marijuana card. And that Medical Marijuana card allows a person to use and possess a certain amount of Marijuana due to their medical issues. And did you know that Marijuana Metabolites (the byproduct of Marijuana) can stay in your system for weeks. And do you know what that adds up to… DUI! Medical Marijuana is not “prescribed,” it is “recommended.” That means it is illegal to drive with Marijuana or its Metabolites in one’s system. DUI conviction for driving with Marijuana metabolites from smoking weeks earlier??? Yes! Furthermore, if the Medical Marijuana impaired your ability to drive to the slightest degree, that can be a DUI as well. These types of cases are becoming more and more common. The prosecutor will bring charges, and will argue for conviction. The judges will let the prosecutors bring charges and argue for conviction. That means that the jury is often the last line of defense for possibly getting a Not Guilty verdict. If you don’t drink, don’t do drugs, and don’t take prescription medications, then you are probably safe from a DUI… probably.
DUI Myth # 3. If I cooperate with the officer, they will give me the benefit of the doubt. FALSE. The police officer is not out to be your friend. While I can’t say it never happens that a pretty girl gets away with what would otherwise be a DUI arrest, it is exceedingly rare. Being polite with the officer is a good idea. Doesn’t hurt. But being open and honest is a recipe for a DUI conviction. That is not to say that you should lie. The fact of the matter is, the officer always has discretion to cite and release you, or arrest you under suspicion for DUI. Being polite may help you in this regard. However, you must look at the big picture. If, in trying to cooperate with the officer, you are honest with them, and explain to them that you were drinking, you did feel impaired, you know you shouldn’t have been driving after drinking so much, etc., you are setting yourself up for a DUI conviction. The officer is going to put all of your admissions in their police report, and this will likely come back to bite you. You can be polite to the officer, and say “Yes Sir,” and “No Sir,” but you have a Constitutional Right to Remain Silent and not to incriminate yourself. It is in your best interest to utilize that. If the officer asks you if you have been drinking tonight, answer “I am invoking my Right to Remain Silent.” If the officer asks any other questions that is meant to incriminate you, your answer is “I am invoking my Right to Remain Silent.” I know it sounds weird, and you think that answering that way will make it sound like you are Guilty, but if the case goes to court, not only will the prosecutor not have evidence – your own words – to use against you, but the prosecutor will not even be able to comment on your invocation of your Right to Remain Silent. That means they can’t bring up in court that in response to the officer’s question, you said that you were invoking your Right to Remain Silent. To do so would punish you for invoking your Constitutional Rights, and would likely lead to your case being dismissed. I had it happen once on a guy facing 10 years in prison. Be polite, but keep quiet.
DUI Myth # 4. I have to do what the officer tells me, including the Field Sobriety Tests (Walk & Turn, 1 Leg Stand, Finger-to-Nose Test, etc.). FALSE. The officer cannot force you to do any of the tests to ‘Help him figure out if you are safe to continue driving.’ It is a trick. Most of the general population cannot do these Field Sobriety Tests in any circumstance. The only exception being ballerinas, gymnasts, and officers, because they have practiced it so much in order to show DUI suspects and juries how easy it is to do. If you attempt the Field Sobriety Tests, you will fail. Even if you think you did well on the Field Sobriety Tests, you will fail. The problem is, these tests are rigged against the person. The officer won’t tell you what is a strike against you, so even if you do it perfectly, you still somehow did it wrong. Walked a straight line perfectly, but you missed touching your heel to toe on one step… Strike 1. Did an about-face turn instead of a three step pivot… Strike 2. Started the test before the officer fully explained all the instructions… Strike 3. It is like this for each of the Field Sobriety Tests. It is nearly impossible for any person, drunk or sober, to successfully complete these tests. Furthermore, on the very very rare occasion that someone does unbelievable well on these tests, they still end up getting arrested for DUI. Doing these requested tests only hurts a person. It will not stop you from getting arrested. It only give the officer more evidence to prove (falsely) that you were impaired. You don’t have to do the tests. The officer won’t hold a gun to your head. The best thing to say is, “I have horrible balance issues, and I don’t want to give you the false impression that I am impaired, so do not want to do the tests.” Same goes with the Portable Breath Test – the portable, handheld machine that officers ask you to blow into. You don’t need to do it.
DUI Myth # 5. My Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was really high, I am going to get charged with a Felony. FALSE. Your Blood Alcohol Content has nothing to do with whether you are charged with a Felony or Misdemeanor Charge. You will be charged with Aggravated DUI (Felony DUI) only if you had a suspended, revoked, cancelled, refused, or restricted license; or you have two or more prior DUIs within seven years; or you were ordered to have an Ignition Interlock Device on your vehicle at the time; or you had a child under the age of 15 in the vehicle at the time. Those are the only ways you can be charged with Aggravated DUI. Anything else is a Misdemeanor DUI charge. Now, where your Blood Alcohol Content can come into play is with the type of Misdemeanor DUI charge you are facing. There are four different types of Misdemeanor DUI charges: Impaired to the Slightest Degree; Above a .08 BAC; Above a .15 BAC; and Above a .20 BAC. The higher the BAC, the bigger the range of fines, fees, and jail time, but a high BAC will not turn a Misdemeanor into a Felony
DUI Myth # 6. I am an awesome person, the officer / prosecutor / judge will let me go. FALSE. Arizona is one of the strictest states in the nation for DUI offenses. In some city courts, it is possible for an Attorney to negotiate a DUI down to something like Reckless Driving, however, somewhere like the City of Phoenix, they just won’t do it no matter what. The prosecutors want to treat everyone the same. Rich or poor, black or white, young or old, everyone is on an even playing field. You may be a saint… literally, a saint, but that doesn’t mean that the prosecutor will just drop the case, and let you go. We have seen celebrities, priests, officers, and even defense attorneys and prosecutors go down for a DUI. You aren’t going to be given a ‘second chance’ just because you are awesome. Also, Arizona, unlike some other states, does not allow for a ‘Diversion Program,’ instead of jail. Diversion is available for some crimes, but not DUI. You can’t just go to class and pay some money to ensure that you don’t have a DUI on your record. If you are charged with DUI, chances are you are either going to have to fight, or take a plea agreement. Very rarely will a case just disappear, and if it does, it is because it fell through the cracks somehow (exceedingly rare), not because of how awesome you are.
DUI Myth # 7. I don’t need a Private Attorney or a Public Defender, I can handle this on my own. TRUE. While the saying goes that “Anyone who represents themselves has a fool for a client,” the United States and Arizona Constitution does allow a person to represent themselves in court as long as they are competent. This is highly, highly not recommended Attorneys go to school for a very long time, and know how to handle themselves in court. An Attorney knows how to argue before the court, write motions, argue in front of a jury, and prepare for a trial if necessary. It is almost a given that a person representing themselves will more likely lose, and will more likely get a harsher sentence.
DUI Myth # 8. My life is over, I got arrested for DUI. FALSE. DUIs are serious. They are not fun. A conviction will lead to some harsh penalties, including jail time and loss of license for a while. But your life is not over. A DUI conviction is a slap on the wrist. It is a very hard slap on the wrist, but it is a slap on the wrist. You can overcome this. Yes, a conviction will come with jail time, and fines and fees, counseling, and other forms of punishments, but you will be able to move past it, and the most important part, is that you learn from it. Things only get worse if you don’t learn your lesson. I recall a DUI Defendant – not my client, but another Attorney’s client that I observed in court. That person got sentenced to decades in prison. Why? They never learned to stop drinking and driving. No one was ever injured, but the person kept driving drunk. They drove drunk, went to jail, got out, and drove drunk again. Went to jail for longer, got out, and drove drunk again. And as time went on, they went to prison for years, got out, and drove drunk again. Finally, after the eighth DUI conviction, the court sentenced the man to decades in prison. HIS life was over, but his situation is the exception. Most people will learn their lesson after their first DUI arrest. You can pay the fines, do the counseling, spend the time in jail, and do everything else expected of you, then move forward with your life. However, this is considering that you are actually convicted of a DUI. That is why it is important to get an experienced DUI Defense Lawyer, to hopefully find the legal loopholes to allow you to learn your lesson, without a conviction, and without court-imposed penalties.
DUI Myth # 9. Those Attorneys I see on the billboards and on buses must be good. I should hire them. FALSE. Let’s just say that you will be paying a lot more money for a lot less representation. Those law firms need to get you in, pay, and get you out, to continue paying for their high advertising costs. The general public may not be aware of these law firms reputation, because they just see the smiling face. Other Attorneys in the community know the truth, because they have to handle the fallout after these law firms take the client’s money, then drop them, after filling their heads with false promises and false expectations in order to get them to pay up. I have represented quite a few clients after the ‘big guys’ took their money and dropped them. You are literally going to pay two or three times as much money for half or less of the knowledge, experience, and representation.
DUI Myth # 10. When the case is over, I will just get the conviction expunged. FALSE. Arizona does not have expungement. Arizona does not have the authority to erase something from one’s criminal record. The closest thing Arizona allows for is “Setting Aside the Conviction.” This does not erase it from one’s record, but will have the words “Set Aside” accompany the conviction, which may look favorable to employers and other people doing background checks on a person.