Arizona has some of the harshest DUI penalties in the country. But, if you cause a serious or fatal accident while driving under the influence, the consequences of your arrest can be far more severe. Causing injury or death while driving under the influence is a felony offense, and a conviction can lead to years—if not decades—behind bars.
As a result, if you are facing charges following a DUI accident in Arizona, you need highly experienced legal representation. You need a defense lawyer who has experience representing clients in your shoes and who knows what it takes to protect you. You need a lawyer who can gather the evidence needed to build your case, raise issues with the prosecution’s evidence, and help you make an informed decision about whether to negotiate a plea bargain or fight for a “Not guilty” verdict at trial.
Possible Criminal Charges Following a DUI Accident in Arizona
When you cause an accident while driving under the influence, the charges that prosecutors are able to pursue depend on the outcome of the accident. In Arizona, causing a DUI accident that results in injury is considered a form of aggravated assault, while causing a fatal DUI accident can be prosecuted as homicide, manslaughter, or even murder:
1. Aggravated Assault (Non-Fatal DUI Accident)
If you cause a non-fatal accident while driving under the influence in Arizona, you can be charged with aggravated assault. Under Section 13-1204 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, committing an assault with a “dangerous instrument” can be prosecuted as aggravated assault—which is a serious felony offense. A vehicle is considered a “dangerous instrument” for purposes of Arizona’s aggravated assault law, and the crime of assault is defined as, “[i]ntentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing any physical injury to another person.” Driving under the influence is considered a form of reckless behavior in many circumstances.
Aggravated assault involving DUI is a class two “dangerous nature” felony in most cases. This means that a conviction can carry anywhere from 7 to 21 years of imprisonment.
2. Negligent Homicide
If you cause a fatal accident while driving under the influence, the least serious charge you are likely to face is negligent homicide. Section 13-1102 of the Arizona Revised Statutes provides that, “[a] person commits negligent homicide if with criminal negligence the person causes the death of another person, including an unborn child.”
Since charges under Section 13-1102 are based on negligence rather than recklessness, they actually carry lesser penalties than aggravated assault charges. Negligent homicide involving DUI is a class four “dangerous nature” felony that carries a prison term of 4 to 8 years.
Manslaughter charges are based on recklessness rather than negligence. Under Section 13-1103 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, the crime of manslaughter is defined as “[r]ecklessly causing the death of another person.” Manslaughter involving DUI is a class two “dangerous nature” felony that carries 7 to 21 years of imprisonment.
Due to the nature of driving under the influence, prosecutors will pursue manslaughter charges following fatal accidents in many cases. Prosecutors will argue that anyone who puts themselves in a position to get behind the wheel while intoxicated is being reckless—and that they deserve to be punished accordingly.
4. Second-Degree Murder
In fatal DUI accident cases, prosecutors also have the option to pursue second-degree murder charges under Section 13-1104 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. Among other things, the crime of second-degree murder can involve:
“Under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life, [a] person recklessly engages in conduct that creates a grave risk of death and thereby causes the death of another person, including an unborn child or, as a result of recklessly causing the death of another person, causes the death of an unborn child.”
When prosecuted as second-degree murder, causing a fatal accident while driving under the influence is a class one felony. If convicted under Section 13-1104, you can face anywhere from 10 to 25 years behind bars.
Defending Against Serious Criminal Charges After a DUI Accident in Arizona
Obviously, if you are facing any of these charges as a result of being accused of causing an accident while driving under the influence, you need to defend yourself by all means available. While there are a variety of potential ways to fight DUI accident charges, the defenses you have available depend entirely on the facts of your case.
When you hire an experienced defense lawyer to represent you, your lawyer will carefully evaluate all potential defense strategies. Depending on the facts of your case, some of your options may include:
- Arguing that You Didn’t Cause the Accident (or that Prosecutors Can’t Prove You Did) – Even if you were driving drunk, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are responsible for the accident. If prosecutors can’t prove that you caused the collision, you don’t deserve the life-altering consequences of a serious felony conviction.
- Arguing that You Weren’t Drunk (or that Prosecutors Can’t Prove You Were) – Another way to fight a DUI accident case is by arguing against the prosecution’s evidence of intoxication or impairment. There are several ways to fight a DUI charge in Arizona, and these can serve as defenses in DUI accident cases as well.
- Fighting to Keep the Prosecution’s Evidence Out of Court – Even if the evidence suggests that you are guilty, you may still be able to avoid a conviction by keeping the prosecution’s evidence out of court. If prosecutors can’t use their evidence against you, they won’t be able to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Negotiating a Plea Bargain that Provides a Certain Outcome – In certain circumstances, negotiating a plea bargain could be your best option. Your lawyer can help you decide if this is the case; and, if so, your lawyer can work to negotiate a plea that reduces your charge (and sentence) while avoiding the inherent uncertainty of trial.
Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Arizona Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you need to know more about defending against a DUI accident case in Arizona, we encourage you to contact us promptly. To arrange a free and confidential consultation at The Weingart Firm, call 480-405-7922 or send us a message online now.