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What Is The Difference Between A DUI And A DWI In Arizona?


If you or a loved one have been charged with a DUI or a DWI, you may be confused as to the difference between these charges. They have a number of similarities. Not only are they both criminal charges that carry severe penalties, but they both have mandatory sentencing guidelines that could have ripple effects later in life. However, there are a few differences between these charges and how your DUI lawyer might mount a defense.

What is the Definition of an Arizona DUI vs. DWI?

One of the first steps to understanding these acronyms is understanding their meaning. A DWI is a charge for Driving While Intoxicated due to alcohol. If you have been charged with a DUI, the officer believes you were Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs.

Already, there is a key difference between DUI charges, as a person cannot receive a DWI if they were using drugs. This charge is exclusive to alcohol use, and the severity of sentencing for this charge depends upon the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream.

What to Do if Pulled Over for a DUI in Arizona

Your first step, if you are pulled over for a DUI, is to know your rights. You are not required to answer an officer’s questions, although you should be polite; do not give the officer any other reason to arrest you.

Your second step is to ask for a DUI attorney. If you contact your attorney as soon as possible, they can guide you through your interaction with the police to ensure you don’t make a mistake that could be harmful to your case.

This is important because an Arizona DUI has a very low threshold. You only need to have some amount of alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, or illegal drugs in your system. The officer does not even need to conduct a blood or breath test; they only need to have a suspicion that you are under the influence of a substance. If the officer detects slurred speech or unusual behavior, you may be charged.

Can You Be Charged without Being Seen Driving?

You may be surprised to learn that an officer doesn’t need to see you driving to charge you. Under that DWI statute, a person can be charged with a DWI if they have a blood alcohol level of .08 or more within two hours of driving. For instance, if officers have reason to believe you drove the parked car in the example above, you could receive a DWI charge if a breathalyzer or blood test shows that your blood alcohol content is higher than .08.

However, to get a DUI charge, you must be driving at the time you are observed and, ultimately, stopped by police. If you are standing next to a parked car, even one that was driven moments before, you cannot be charged with a DUI.

What are the Different Defenses to a DUI and a DWI?

There are some differences in how an attorney might help you plan a defense against them and why it’s essential to hire a DUI lawyer. For instance, if an officer did not observe you driving a vehicle, you cannot be charged with a DUI.

Likewise, if an officer believes you were smoking marijuana before arresting you, you cannot be charged with a DWI, because that charge is targeted explicitly at alcohol use. Also, as DWIs allow officers to charge you for driving that occurred within 2 hours of having a blood alcohol content of .08, your attorney might argue that you were drinking after you drove, which is not a crime.

What are Other Defenses for DUI or DWI?

There are certain defenses that a good DWI or DUI lawyer will use, regardless of the charge issued:

  1. Challenge the stop. If the officer didn’t have good reason to stop you, then it’s possible that anything that followed, including a breathalyzer or blood test, could be dismissed from evidence.
  2. Attack the test. Your attorney might also challenge the type of blood alcohol test used and how it was performed. Even minor missteps by the police agency could invalidate the test results.

This is especially important in DWI cases, as the measurable amount of alcohol in your blood is key to convicting you for the charge.

  1. Be Compliant. A refusal to take a breathalyzer or blood test results in an immediate, automatic 12-month suspension of your license. Even if you refuse, an officer may still get a warrant to test your blood, so your refusal does very little (possibly nothing) to help you and, instead, hurts you.

What are the DUI and DWI Penalties?

  1. First Offense DUI and DWI charges. If you are convicted of a DUI or a DWI with a blood alcohol level under .15, you will receive 10 days in jail, may be required to participate in therapy, will be fined at least $1,250.00, ordered to participate in an ignition interlock program for a year, may be ordered to perform community service and possible 90-day suspension or one-year revocation of your license.
  2. Second Offense DUI and DWI Charges. If within four years, you receive a second DUI or DWI conviction with a blood alcohol level under .15, the penalties are even harsher. You would be sentenced to 90 days in jail, fined in excess of $2,000.00, your license would be revoked for one year, once your license is reinstated, you would be required to participate in an ignition interlock program for at least one year, you would be required to perform community service, and you may be ordered to attend in therapy or substance abuse treatment.

What are “Extreme” DWI Penalties?

One significant difference between DUI charges and DWI charges is that DWI convictions include tiered penalties depending upon your blood alcohol level at the time you are charged. These higher DWI tiers are sometimes labeled “extreme” and “super extreme.” Confusingly, many media outlets have incorrectly referred to these as DUI penalties.

  1. Extreme DWI. A person convicted of a DWI with a blood alcohol level between .15 and .19, you could face all of the same penalties for a standard DWI, but the mandatory jail time is increased to 30 days, and fines are increased to at least $1,500.00.
  2. Super Extreme DWI. The third, most aggressive, tier for DWI convictions is applied if you are convicted with a blood alcohol level of .20 or more. Although you could face all of the same penalties as you would for a standard DWI, you would be required to serve 45 days in jail and face fines of at least $1,750.00.

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About the Author

Shane Seaton is a highly qualified and dedicated Charleston Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer who can help you in your time of need.