If you were pulled over for a DUI here are the important Court decisions regarding DUI traffic stops in Arizona. This may be a good place for you to start researching your case. Keep in mind that DUI laws in Arizona are constantly changing. If you would like to speak with a DUI attorney about a case, please feel free to contact our office for a free consultation. You can speak with a former DUI prosecutor right over the phone. Simply call 602-989-5000
DUI Laws in AZ: When the police officer suspects a driver is impaired:
A police officer cannot stop a vehicle just because he or she feels like it. The U.S. Supreme Court long ago held that there must be a real legal basis to pull over a vehicle. As such, a cop cannot rely on a hunch or a gut instinct to stop a car.
Terry v. Ohio 392, U.S. 1 (1968). is the most important case on the issue of traffic stops. In Terry, the Court held that police officers need to see an actual violation of the law or have a "reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. How "reasonable suspicion" is defined is a complex and burdensome legal issue in Arizona.
As a DUI Attorney in Arizona, I can tell you that courts decide the Terry issue quite differently. Some judges will allow a police officer to stop a vehicle if he sees a car that looks like it is traveling too quickly. Other judges will require far more evidence, such as a valid pace or a radar gun reading.
The problem with the law is that the officer can pull a person over for a "suspicion." This does not mean probable cause. So as long as the police can say that they saw real evidence that lead them to believe that criminal activity is afoot, this may allow the case to move forward.
Whereas probable cause means that it is more probable than not that the law is being broken. Probable cause is necessary to arrest someone. In order to transport someone down to a booking facility, a police officer must have facts that lead the arresting agent to believe that it is more likely than not that the person is guilty.
However, when the police stop a vehicle or a person walking down the street, they are not "under arrest." Instead, the court has allowed the police an exception to briefly question a person about their conduct.
Finally, and unfortunately, the police have the ability to conduct a "pretextual traffic stop." This means that if you are driving a vehicle with a minor equipment violation--such as a broken tail light--fix it immediately. The police can use any minor traffic violation or equipment violation as an excuse to stop somebody and start a criminal investigation. If the officer has probable cause to believe a traffic violation has been committed, he or she can pull you over in Arizona. State v. Orendain, 185 Ariz. 348 1996.
DUI Laws in AZ: Weaving in Your Lane
In Arizona, a police officer can stop a vehicle when the officer reasonably believes that a crime is being committed. The police also have the ability to stop a vehicle when the officer actually witnesses a civil traffic violation. The civil traffic violation can be very minimal, such as a cracked windshield. In State v. Vera, 196 Ariz. 342 (Ct. App. 1999), the Arizona Court of Appeals held that an officer is justified to pull a vehicle over for a cracked windshield and then investigate the driver for a drug possession offense.
However, the Court of Appeals found that stopping a car for limited weaving in ones lane is not permitted. In State v. Livingston, 206 Ariz 145 (Ct Appeals 2003). In the Livingston decision, the court held essentially that everybody weaves within their lane from time to time. As a result, giving the police the authority to stop a vehicle for limited weaving essentially allows the police to stop any and every vehicle.
This case is one that is used very frequently by our DUI attorneys to win cases. It is amazing how many police officers simply don't understand this decision. Any case that we see where the police use "weaving" as a basis for the traffic stop is a case where a DUI attorney can file a motion to dismiss the case.
DUI Laws in AZ: Anonymous Informants
DUI attorneys love cases where the police are notified of a possible impaired driver by an "anonymous informant." In Arizona, any person can drops a dime on another driver. However, the police can't use an anonymous call as gospel. This means, that the police must have some reason to believe that the call is valid and the caller is a responsible and credible person.
For a DUI traffic stop to be permitted based on an anonymous call, two tests must be met. State v. Alteri, 191 Ariz 1 (1997). First, the tip must be quite detailed. A caller cannot call and say that there is a white car on Scottsdale road that is weaving. Obviously this description is too broad and would allow the police to pull over probably hundreds of cars. As such, the tip needs to include specific information. Ideally, a license plate number or very detailed description is required.
Second, the police must also see some indication that the driver is breaking the law. The police cannot pull over the vehicle based on an anonymous tip without also witnessing some indicia or criminality themselves.
When tips are not anonymous, the standards get lowered somewhat. If a caller calls the police and identifies themselves and the police have a reason to believe that this caller is a credible source, the police can stop a vehicle. Arizona courts allow vehicle stops based on citizen reports when those reports contain detailed information. Pharo v. Tucson City Court, 167 Ariz 571 (Ct App. 1990)
If you have been pulled over for a DUI in Arizona based on a citizen caller, there are a number of factors that our DUI attorneys look for. Many times, the police do not record the name or phone number of the caller, even if the caller provided it to them. As such, these mistakes can allow DUI lawyers to file motions to dismiss cases.
DUI Laws in AZ: Actual Physical Control
This is an instance where the courts have actually made a decision that benefits DUI attorneys in Arizona. Actual Physical Control (APC) cases in Arizona are cases where the police did not witness actual driving, but the driver presented a real risk to the safety of himself or others. APC cases are typically seen when someone is passed out behind the wheel or waiting in a running car.
In State v. Zaragoza, the Arizona Supreme Court made a real change to DUI laws. In the decision, the court held that simply being able to "potentially drive" is not the same as being a real dangerto others on the road. In the Zaragoza case, the defendant was found in his vehicle. The keys were in the ignition, but the engine wasn't on. The defendant indicated that his intention was to go to sleep.
The Court held that the statements made by the defendant were important in determining whether or not he was a real danger to himself or others. The court threw out his conviction on the grounds that judges must look at the "totality of the circumstances" when ruling whether or not a person was in APC of a car.
DUI Laws in AZ: Searching the Driver and the Vehicle
In Arizona, as in the nation, courts have gradually allowed the police greater powers to conduct searches of people and vehicles. If an officer pulls a driver over for a traffic stop, the officer can order the driver out of the vehicle and conduct a frisk of the driver if the officer reasonably believes that the suspect is armed.
More often than not, however, the officer simply asks the driver if they can search the vehicle. More often than not, this "request" sounds a lot like an order. As long as there is consent to search a vehicle, the police can dig away. Ilono, 113 P.23d. 696 (Ct. App. 2005)
Passengers of vehicles do not need to produce identification, but drivers do. State v. Akins 206 Ariz. 113, (Ct. App. 2003) Any driver who drives a vehicle without a driver's license in thier possession faces arrest and search. If the driver is arrested for an offense, the police have the ability to search the car. State v. Lopez 198 Ariz. 420 (Ct. App 2000).
Unfortunatley, this DUI attorney has seen many instances where the police commit unconstitutional searches. In many instances, these officers claim that the evidence was in plain view or that the driver consented to the search. Without a videotape, it can be difficult to prove that the search was illegal. Nevertheless, our DUI law firm has successfully dismissed hundreds of DUI cases in Arizona.
If you need to speak with a DUI attorney about a case in Arizona, please feel free to contact the Law Offices of Alcock and Associates, P.C. at 602-989-5000. You can talk with an experienced former DUI lawyer right over the phone.
Our DUI law firm handles cases throughout the State of Arizona, including Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale, Tempe, Chandler and surrounding cities. Nothing contained in this site is legal advice.