IMPAIRED TO THE SLIGHTEST DEGREE
Here is what it means to be “impaired” under an Arizona DUI law
Arizona law has created two ways to violate the first offense DUI laws:
- Driving while impaired to the slightest degree by alcohol or a drug; or
- having an alcohol concentration above a statutory limit within 2 hours of driving.
So, how do you define “impaired to the slightest degree”? Let’s find out.
In the beginning…
Arizona has had some version of a DUI Law since late 1920. In every version of our DUI statutes, the Arizona legislature has never specifically defined what they meant by impaired driving.
The legislative history of Arizona’s DUI law (A.R.S. 28-1381) does not tell us the reason why they left such an important term up for interpretation. While there were probably several reasons, one seems fairly obvious, once you understand what impairment really means in the context of alcohol consumption. That is, you cannot determine if a person is impaired at performing a task (like walking, standing on one leg, or dancing) unless you know how they normally perform that task – without consuming alcohol. More on this below.
Under the Influence v. Impaired
The law makes an important, but often overlooked, distinction between being under the influence of alcohol and being impaired by alcohol. Let’s look at the jury instruction in a DUI case where a person is alleged to have been driving and impaired by alcohol:
There are three essential elements of a first offense Arizona DUI:
Notice that the proof of a person was under the influence of alcohol is not sufficient to make them guilty of the DUI. To illustrate, you can consume alcohol resulting in a flushed face or a feeling relaxed. That is just being under the influence of an intoxicating beverage. However, impairment goes beyond those effects.
Your Specific Baseline
The effects of alcohol on the human body are studied by Toxicologists. In the field of toxicology, impairment is defined as a measurable difference between the way a person normally performs a task, and how they perform the same task less effectively, because of the consumption of alcohol.
To determine if any form of impairment is present you need to know what a person’s baseline abilities are for that task. A police officer who meets you for the first time – during a traffic stop – has no way to know your baseline motor skill abilities for any given task.