There is no question that being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) puts you in a messy situation. An arrest puts you down the road for court time and a possible DUI conviction, which has consequences financially and emotionally. While an arrest does not necessarily mean a conviction, you will probably need legal representation to help you fight the charges, depending on how severe your charges were to begin with.
In Arizona it is unlawful to drive or be in physical control of a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of over 0.08 within two hours of driving. A.R.S. § 28-1381(A)(2). An even more strict standard is used for those who drive commercial vehicles, as they cannot be in physical control of a vehicle with a BAC of 0.04. A.R.S. § 28-1381(A)(4). You may not drive under the influence of alcohol or any other drug or drug metabolite.
What to expect in the event of an arrest
Once you are pulled over because an officer had probable cause to believe that you were driving under the influence, you will probably be asked to complete a field sobriety test or chemical test. These tests include the standard blood, breath, and urine exams to determine your BAC. The officer may also ask you to perform the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn, or the one leg stand. You will need to comply with these tests because of the implied consent law or you can risk a license suspension.1
What to expect after an arrest and the penalties associated with conviction
After an arrest, there will be a court process that may result in sanctions. During your arraignment, you may choose to plead guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere (or “no contest”). A plea of “no contest” is, in effect, like a guilty plea because you still accept the punishment. Your level of sanctions will depend on your circumstances. You have the right to a jury trial, but if you are convicted then it is up to the judge to determine what fines you will face based on the circumstances of your arrest.2
A typical first time DUI with a BAC of 0.08 is a misdemeanor with a jail sentence of no less than 10 consecutive days with a fine of $250 or more. A.R.S. § 28-1381(I)(1). You will have to equip your vehicle with a certified ignition interlock device approved by Arizona law, which means you cannot start your vehicle unless you breathe into the device to start your ignition (to prove you are not under the influence). A.R.S. § 28-1381(I)(6). The court may also order you to equip any other vehicles you operate with a certified ignition interlock device for over one year (12 months) beginning at the date of reinstatement of your driving privilege. A.R.S. § 28-1381(I)(6). The court can order community restitution and other sums of about $500 each to be deposited with the state treasurer. A.R.S. § 28-1381(I)(4)-(6).
Penalties only increase once you are convicted of a second offense. For example, if within 84 months (7 years) you are convicted of a second DUI violation and had previously been convicted of a DUI, you have to pay a fine of $500 or more, you will have your driving privilege revoked for one year, and you shall pay an additional assessment of $1,250 to be deposited by the state treasurer in the public safety equipment fund. A.R.S. § 28-1381(K). You may get your license suspension down to thirty days if you complete a course based on alcohol or drug screening, education or treatment program. A.R.S. § 28-1381(L).
If you undergo evaluation and treatment which determines you have a drinking problem, then you will have to attend driving school classes to learn about the dangers of impaired driving, pass a test, and seek more treatment before you can “graduate” from the school.3 Further, a DUI can add 8 or more points to your driving record within a year.4
There are also aggravated and extreme DUIs where penalties are even steeper. If you have a BAC of 0.15 or higher when you are arrested, you will have 30 consecutive days of jail time with fines of $2,500 or more if it is your first conviction with a BAC of 0.15 or more.5 Further, driving without your license is an aggravated DUI that is considered a class 4 felony in Arizona. A.R.S. § 28-1383(L)(1). This means bigger fines, more jail time, the ignition interlock device, and alcohol education treatment. A.R.S. § 28-1383(J)(1)-(2). A conviction will also have an effect on your car insurance. You will need to contact your insurance company and get a safety responsibility (i.e. SR-22) form to show you have a policy in order to reinstate your driver’s license.6
 What Happens If You Get A DUI?, criminal-law.freeadvice.com, http://criminal-law.freeadvice.com/criminal-law/drunk_driving/stopped-for-drunk-driving.htm (last visited Feb. 5, 2015).
3 Buddy T., What Happens If You Are Arrested For DUI?, alcoholism.about.com, http://alcoholism.about.com/od/dui/a/driving_consequences.htm (last visited Feb. 4, 2015).
4 Suspended License in Arizona, dmv.org, http://www.dmv.org/az-arizona/suspended-license.php (last visited Feb. 4, 2015).
5 Driver Services, azdot.gov, http://www.azdot.gov/mvd/driver-services/driver-improvement/dui (last visited Feb. 4, 2015).
6 Rich Stim, SR22 And Other Insurance Requirements In Arizona, dui.drivinglaws.org, http://dui.drivinglaws.org/arizona-sr22.php (last visited Feb. 5, 2015).