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What happens during a DUI Traffic Stop?

Armando Nava

If you are charged with driving under the influence, your case began the second you were pulled over. The officer documented all words and actions before and after your arrest, which can be used against you in court. If convicted, Arizona’s DUI laws carry mandatory jail time, fines, and fees. Prosecutors are hesitant to offer beneficial plea deals for DUI cases. For this reason, Arizona DUI cases are taken to trial more often than one would suspect.

The phrase ‘drunk driver’ carries with it a heavy stereotype. Many people connect the phrase with binge drinking and recklessly driving. In some cases, this is true, but in many this is completely false. A casual drink after work or happy hour may lead some people to be pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. If you do get pulled over, it is important to know what you are legally required to do. This means it is imperative that you know what to expect when being pulled over and what rights you hold.


If the officers signal you to pull over by turning on their lights, you must do so. As they approach, remain seated with your seatbelt on. Be courteous and be civil. Do not joke around. Do not be disrespectful. When asked to do so, respectfully provide the officer with your license, registration, and proof of insurance. Note that the officer is observing and recording how you retrieve these documents. Make it easier on yourself and have these document clipped together and readily available. The officer is also in search of any odors, bloodshot and watery eyes, and slurred speech. The officer will then ask you to exit your vehicle. You are required to do this. Remember, the officer is observing and recording how you exit the vehicle and any difficulties you may have.

Some officers will request things that you are not legally required to do:

  • Small Talk Questions: It is always a good idea to speak as little as possible. With or without your Miranda rights read, you are not required to give any information other than your license, registration, and proof of insurance. One question that will always be asked is, “Have you been drinking?” There is no good answer to this. The officer is merely seeking confirmation on something he already thinks. You may respectfully invoke your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. You can simply say, “I would like to speak to an attorney before I answer any questions.”
  • Vehicle Search Without a Warrant: An officer cannot search your car without your consent or a warrant. If an officer believes they have a good enough reason to search your vehicle, have them retrieve a warrant. Simply say, “I do not consent to a search of my vehicle.” Note that an officer will be allowed to conduct an “inventory search” if the officer impounds your vehicle.
  • Field Sobriety Tests: These are the tests that you do on the side of the road such as, walking a straight line, touching your finger to your nose, Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (the eye test), and one-legged stands. The value of completing these tests is questionable, because they are subjective in nature. Even if you believe you passed with flying colors, it is the at the officer’s discretion. There are no laws requiring you to comply with these tests. There is no need to put yourself through these, kindly refuse by saying that you wish to speak to your attorney before performing any tests.
  • Preliminary Breath Test: This is the portable breath machine carried by officers to be administered on the side of the road. Again you may kindly refuse. Note that if you refuse, you will likely be arrested and the officer will administer the required breath or blood test at the station. Your license will not be suspended for refusing this test, it will only be suspended if you refuse the in-station tests.


Once your Miranda rights have been read, the officer will place you under arrest and place you in his or her vehicle. Keep in mind that the officer has already made his or her decision and has collected enough probable cause during his or her investigation to arrest you. Any statements that you make will not change the officers mind and can only come back to hurt you. Bargaining, begging, or commenting to the officer are all statements that can be used in your case as evidence of guilt. Any answer that is anything but zero percent alcohol intake is considered an admission of impairment and will be used against you.

Once at the police station or a DUI drunk tank, the officers will ask some standard questions. If you invoke your right to remain silent or your right to speak to an attorney all lines of questioning must cease. If you do not invoke your rights then all questions and answers will be written down and used in the case against you. There is no reason for you to waive either of these rights. Even if you think you are innocent, play it safe and invoke!

Next, the officer will administer a breath, blood, or urine test. Do not refuse these. Arizona has an Implied Consent Law, which requires anyone driving in the state to consent to breath, blood, and urine tests to determine impairment. To be clear, you are allowed to refuse the Field Sobriety Tests, but not these. In the event that you do refuse these tests, an automatic suspension of your driver’s license will result, regardless of the outcome of your test. Additionally, if you refuse the prosecutor can argue that your refusal is evidence of guilt that you were hiding something. Even if you refuse, the officer will just retrieve a telephonic search warrant to get permission to take your blood for testing. Always ask to speak to an attorney before you consent to any test!

After completing the test, always ask for a sample to be preserved for your defense. If released and not booked, immediately have your own test done. If the test shows a lower Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) you may want to use it in your defense. If the test shows a higher BAC, you are not required to provide that test to the prosecutor.


Suspensions and restrictions do not go into effect until after the notice is served. If you do not want to lose your license, ask for a Motor Vehicle Division hearing once released.

  • If you refuse the required tests after arrest: Your license will be suspended for twelve months
  • If your test shows a Blood Alcohol Concentration higher than 0.08%: Your license is subject to suspension
  • If your test shows a Blood Alcohol Concentration lower than 0.08%: You are not subject to suspension prior to conviction


Once all of the arrest procedures are completed, it is time to plan how you will fight your case. Remember that no two cases are the same. You will need to talk to an experienced DUI attorney to see how your case should be handled. Contact The Nava Law Firm, PLLC for a free consultation if you have been charged with a DUI in Arizona.

Note: Arizona DUI laws and procedures are subject to change without notice. Consult an attorney to determine current law.

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