Driving under the influence is a serious criminal offense in Arizona. Those convicted of a DUI may face substantial fines, jail time, probation, license suspension, community service, and mandatory use of an ignition interlock device.

While a DUI isn’t a felony, the class 1 misdemeanor will stay on your criminal record until age 99. Unfortunately, that means the long-term effects of a DUI conviction can last a lifetime.

The good news is that with the help of an experienced criminal law attorney, Arizona drivers who are guilty of driving under the influence can often reach a plea agreement with the prosecutor.

Reaching a favorable plea agreement requires expert negotiation skills and no two cases are alike, but you’ll generally find that most plea agreements fit into one of two categories:

  • An agreement to reduce the sentence
  • An agreement to reduce the charges

Following is a brief overview of what to expect with these two types of plea agreements, along with a discussion of some frequently asked questions regarding DUIs in Arizona.

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DUI Penalties in Arizona

Under ARS 28-1381, a first-time DUI offense carries the following potential penalties:

  • A minimum of 24 hours in jail up to a maximum of six months
  • A base fine of $250 that may exceed $2,500 in additional fees and fines
  • License suspension for 90 – 360 days 
  • Mandatory installation and use of an ignition interlock device
  • Probation period of up to three years
  • Community service hours
  • Alcohol education classes and substance abuse counseling

Subsequent DUI charges within seven years of the first charge will result in a more severe sentence. For a second DUI offense, you can expect a longer jail sentence, steeper fines, more community service hours, and mandatory alcohol screening, education, and treatment programs. You’ll also be subject to a longer license suspension and more time with the ignition interlock device.

DUI Plea Bargains in Arizona

There are two common types of plea bargains in Arizona: sentence reductions and charge reductions.

Bargaining for a Charge Reduction

Plea agreements that reduce the charges against you are arguably the best bargain. The reduced charges drop the stigma attached to a DUI on your criminal record, and they usually carry lighter sentencing options.

Reducing the DUI charge to a lesser charge usually eliminates the mandatory drivers’ license suspension, though you may still need to use an ignition interlock device.

Finally — and possibly most importantly — reduced charges don’t count with the seven-year lookback period. So, if you get pulled over for a DUI in five years, that DUI charge would technically be your first DUI offense. Remember, a first-time offense carries lighter penalties, so that’s a major bonus if you can eliminate the current DUI charge from your list of “priors.”

Bargaining for a Sentence Reduction

While charge reductions are ideal, sometimes there’s just too much evidence against you to bargain for a lesser charge. If the prosecutor isn’t willing to budge on the DUI charge, your attorney should at least be able to bargain for minimal penalties.

You’ll have to plead guilty to the DUI charge, but the good news is your agreement will guarantee less (if any) jail time and as little in fines as possible. The bargain may involve attending alcohol education or treatment classes and more community service hours, but most people would agree that’s better than spending a few months in jail and paying several thousand dollars in fines.

FAQs About DUI Plea Bargains in Arizona

Q: How do I get a plea bargain for a DUI?

Your attorney will negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecutor assigned to your case. You should not attempt to negotiate a bargain yourself, even if the prosecutor comes to you and offers a deal that “expires” as soon as you call an attorney. 

The fact is, an attorney can get you an even better deal than whatever you’re offered in exchange for an admission of guilt in the interrogation room. Your attorney will also ensure your agreement is in writing and legally enforceable, something that prosecutors often fail to do when offering a bargain to someone without a lawyer.

Q: What happens when you plead guilty to a DUI?

Accepting a plea agreement will require pleading guilty to the agreed-upon charges. Whether the charge is a DUI or a lesser offense, your plea agreement should outline exactly what to expect with the sentencing.

In other words, there shouldn’t be any surprises when you plead guilty to a DUI as part of a plea agreement. In exchange for your admission and not having to take the case to trial, you’ll get a lesser sentence. 

Q: Can a DUI be dropped for a lesser charge?

Yes. A plea agreement for reduced charges may result in your DUI being dropped to a lesser charge like reckless driving or exhibition of speed.

Q: Can a DUI be dismissed?

Yes. If your attorney is able to convince the prosecutor that there’s not enough evidence against you to take the case to trial, the prosecutor may dismiss the charge and drop the case.

Q: Can you plead no contest to a DUI?

Yes. Pleading “no contest” isn’t a formal admission of guilt, but you’re telling the judge that you don’t wish to challenge the charges against you. Instead of going to trial, the judge will immediately issue a sentence.

Most plea agreements require a guilty plea, but there are cases where a no-contest plea is acceptable. Your attorney will advise you on the best course of action.

What to Do if You’re Charged With a DUI in Arizona

Arizona drivers are required to submit to a blood-alcohol test upon a police officer’s request, so don’t fight it. Whether the officer asks for a breathalyzer test, blood test, or urine sample, it’s best to comply. Getting hit with resisting arrest charges will only complicate your case.

That said, you are under no obligation to admit that you’ve been drinking or using drugs.

You should not submit to verbal questioning without an attorney present, whether you’re in the back of the police cruiser or in an interrogation room. Request an attorney as soon as you’re under arrest, and remain silent until your attorney arrives.

Your attorney will work quickly to get you released from jail and prepare a defense strategy before your hearing. If a plea agreement is the best option, your attorney will negotiate with the prosecutor to reach the best possible bargain to reduce your charges or reduce the sentence.
 

Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.

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