The Phoenix DUI Law Blog

Drugged Driving in AZ: Why It's Difficult to Get DUI Convictions

Arizona residents, like drivers in every state, have had an increasing number of problems with driving under the influence of drugs, or drugged driving, over the past several years. Yet, many are still unaware that drugged driving in Arizona could lead to serious consequences, much less that it is illegal even if they have a prescription for the drug.

Complicating the rampant use of drugs while driving are the difficulties law enforcement faces when trying to get DUI convictions after the driver is caught, reports azfamily.com.

One of the most significant difficulties in getting a DUI conviction for drugged driving is proving that the person is impaired. Although there are blood-alcohol tests to prove that a person is legally drunk, there are no such tests that present a bright-line rule of the level at which any type of drug can cause impairment. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much momentum in creating those tests either.

"We haven't been able to make the scientific community focus on that because again there are a lot of new drugs that are hitting the market every day," Aaron Harder, Bureau Chief for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office Vehicular Crimes Unit, told azfamily.com.

Arizona, however, does have a "per se" drugged driving law which makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of certain drugs in your system. Only 14 other states have per se drugged driving laws.

Another difficulty authorities face is combating people's perceptions that the use of prescription medications are legitimate when driving. Twenty-one-year-old Nicole Moon is one extreme example of this difficulty. Moon had severely injured a Salt River Police Department motorcycle officer in a suspected DUI crash last December. She reportedly admitted to having taken several drugs, including Xanax, Percocet and Soma, according to Sgt. Paul White, a drug recognition expert with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

It's White's job to evaluate and determine what substances a suspect is under the influence of, as well as if they are impaired, according to azfamily.com. Having conducted over 4,000 drug evaluations on suspected drunk drivers, Moon was "probably the top five most-impaired individuals I've seen," he said.

However, because she wasn't intoxicated, Moon was allowed to get back behind the wheel because state law doesn't enforce the 90-day suspension for drugged driving in Arizona unless there is a DUI conviction, according to Harder.

With the dangers associated with drugged driving highlighted in the news, authorities are working hard to push pass the difficulties of getting DUI convictions in order to prevent more tragedies from occurring.

"Impaired driving is a murder in progress," White said.

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