Rippling Impacts Arizona v. Zaragoza: DUI arrests for being in “actual physical control” of a vehicle
This weekend in the news we heard a popular motorcycle sports celebrity Robbie Knievel was allegedly arrested for DUI. Reports indicate the Police were called to Mr. Knievel’s parked motor home, near a famous Motor Cycle Rally. When they arrived on the scene, they found Mr. Knievel’s motor home parked; with Robbie Knievel patiently texting on his mobile device, while sitting in the driver’s seat of his parked vehicle.
Police reported that when they arrived they smelled a strong odor of alcohol, and asked him if he had been drinking. He admitted that he had been drinking a few beers, but DUI test results allegedly indicated his Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) tested 0.228 percent which was 3 times the legal limit in South Dakota. But there is more to this story. It was reported that the reason police were called to the scene, was that witnesses reported seeing him allegedly driving into two other motorhomes, causing damage, without stopping.
This recent news illustration leads us to our discussion of similar DUI arrests that occur in the State of Arizona. Here a person can also be in violation of A.R.S. 28-1381 DUI law if they were impaired due to drugs or alcohol, but not actually driving. This is the case if they are found to be in “actual physical control” of a vehicle.
Over 60 Years ago, the Arizona State Legislature expanded the DUI statutes to prohibit being “in actual physical control” of a vehicle while under the influence of spirituous liquor. However, they stopped short of defining what constituted “actual physical control” of a vehicle. This has resulted in many legal challenges, which have resulted in evolutions and interpretations of its meaning.
One landmark case of involving this issue was State of Arizona v. Zaragoza which was heard in the Arizona Supreme Court. The Superior Court initially found the defendant guilty and convicted him of Aggravated DUI. The charges were elevated to a felony due to Aggravated circumstances in that the defendant possessed a revoked driver’s license at the time of the DUI charges
In this case, the police officer responded to an emergency service call at an apartment complex. There the officer found the Defendant Vincent Zaragoza, balancing himself from vehicle to vehicle, staggering toward his own. As the officer approached nearer he found Zaragoza sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle. Zaragoza had one hand on the steering wheel, and the other hand holding the key to the vehicle’s ignition starter. At that point the officer stopped and questioned him on suspicion of DUI.
The officer arrested him following his DUI investigation for probable cause. The defendant’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was later found to be 0.357 percent which was over 4 times the legal limit.
At trial, Zaragoza testified at trial that he did not intend to drive the vehicle; but only to sleep in it following an argument he had with a woman in the apartment complex. He testified that he wanted to start the vehicle’s ignition only to open the window of the vehicle and turn on the radio.
The lower trial court’s jury instructions included language that asked the jury to consider the totality of the circumstances shown by evidence as well as whether or not the defendant’s “potential use” of the vehicle presented a real danger to himself or others” at that time.
The key element at appeal was the question of whether or not the trial court erred by confusing the jury when it provided it’s jury instructions to enable them to determine if the defendant’s conduct and evidence fell within its meaning.
The State Prosecution appealed, and The Arizona Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, finding that the jury instruction language “potential use” misled the jury. The court held that the instructions could have been interpreted as requiring to jurors to find the defendant, Zaragoza, guilty based on control of his vehicle that he might have hypothetically exercised but did not, was in error.
The defendant appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision, vacating the Appeals court ruling, and affirming the “guilty” conviction.
The Arizona Supreme Court that jury instructions should read: “In determining whether the defendant was in actual physical control of the vehicle, you should consider the totality of the circumstances shown by the evidence and whether the defendant’s current or imminent control of the vehicle presented a real danger to [himself] [herself] or others at the time alleged. Factors to be considered might include, but are not limited to…”
The Arizona Supreme Court went on to recommend 13 factors to consider including, but not limited to whether or not:
- The vehicle was running;
- The vehicle’s ignition was turned on or off;
- The location of the vehicle’s ignition key;
- The person was sleeping or awake;
- Headlights on or off;
- There was a conspicuous location of the vehicle;
- The vehicle was in operation, moving or stopped;
- The driver pulled off the road voluntarily;
- It was morning, noon, or night, or other specified time;
- The weather was good or poor, and weather conditions;
- Heater or air conditioner was on or off;
- Windows were opened or closed;
- Other explanation of circumstances presented as evidence.
In their opinion, the Arizona Supreme Court reminded that the list was not meant to be all inclusive. But rather it was up to the courts and jury to examine all available evidence and weigh the credibility of the facts and evidence, based on the “totality of the circumstances”, and that this was just part of what needed to be determined.
The Justices relied on prior court rulings that held the process of determining “actual physical control” under the statute, should be a “fact finding” mission. In that not only should they consider totality of the circumstances and evidence under that statute, but one other very important element. The AZ Supreme Court held that the jury should also weigh the evidence to determine if a person “actually posed a threat to the public by the exercise of present or imminent control over the vehicle while impaired.”
Criminal Defense for Maricopa County DUI Arrests
As the Arizona Supreme Court reasoned, cases involving “actual physical control” of a vehicle can be very complex and involve much fact finking and gathering. A qualified criminal defense attorney will need to be retained in order to protect your rights, defend your charges, and gather evidence on behalf of our defense to present in your case. Experienced DUI Attorney, James Novak, of the Law Office of James Novak, PLLC provides a strong defense for these types of DUI cases. If you or someone you know has active DUI charges in Chandler AZ, Tempe, AZ or other Phoenix East Valley cities, consult The Law Office of James Novak for a free consultation regarding your matter, and options for defense.