New DUI Fines Are Tough On Offenders, Easy On Taxpayers

As the cost of enforcing laws against drunk driving continues to rise, the Arizona Legislature has found a way to shift a portion of it from the taxpayers to the offenders.

A new statute went into effect Aug. 12 that added an additional fine to the already stiff fines for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). The fine, which is $500 for first-time offenders and $1,250 for second-time offenders, is deposited into the state general fund, then routed to the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS). The money is used for additional officers and equipment to help keep Arizona's highways safe.

The new fine is actually the third in a series of fines the legislature has enacted. Since every DUI offense includes a mandatory jail or prison sentence, a prison construction assessment was also recently added to the list of fines.

First-time DUI offenders are assessed a $500 prison construction assessment, while second-time offenders pay $1,250. The funds collected through the assessment are set aside to help defray one of the state's largest expenses, housing inmates.

In addition to the newer fines used to fund DPS and prisons, a standard DUI fine continues to be imposed. This fine has been in effect for a number of years, and the money collected is used to fund the court system, among other things.

The standard DUI fine for a first offense is $250 plus an 80 percent surcharge, for a total of $450. A second offense results in a $500 fine, plus an 80 percent surcharge, for a total of $900.

With all three fines, a person convicted of DUI for the first time will pay a total of $1,450. For a second offense, the fines and assessments total $3,400.

Navajo County Superior Court Judge John Lamb, who served as judge in the Holbrook Justice Court for more than 10 years, explained that the majority of DUI fines are collected through the justice court.

"By the time they get to Superior Court, they're going to DOC (Arizona Department of Corrections), and aren't able to pay because they're locked up," Lamb said. "We don't collect as much as we'd like to in Superior Court."

He did note, however, that the justice court is quite successful in collecting DUI fines.

"Most people pay over time," he noted. "We charge them a fee to do that, but that way they pay."

The total amount of DUI fines paid through the Holbrook Justice Court and the Navajo County Superior Court was not available.

Judge Lamb noted that as the severity of the DUI offense goes up, so do the fines. For example, a first-time extreme DUI offender, with a blood alcohol content of .15 percent or more, would be fined a total of $2,700.

"These are all just minimums," he said. "The judge, in theory, could give you more."

He also explained that fines and assessments are just one portion of the consequences of DUI. Jail or prison time is also mandatory for all DUI offenses. Individuals convicted of DUI also lose their driver's license, and are often ordered to attend alcohol screening and counseling.

According to Judge Lamb, a first-time offender can receive up to six months in jail, but a typical sentence is 10 days in jail, with nine of those days deferred if the offender agrees to voluntarily undergo alcohol counseling. First-time offenders also have their driver's license suspended for 90 days.

Second-time offenders have their license revoked for one year, and are typically sentenced to 90 days in jail, with 30 days served immediately and 60 days waived if they successfully complete counseling.

Judge Lamb also noted that if children are in the vehicle at the time of the DUI, it automatically becomes felony aggravated DUI, and the offender faces a mandatory four-month prison sentence in addition to fines and assessments.

"They've gotten a lot tougher on DUIs," Judge Lamb remarked. "It's best to just give your car keys to someone else."

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