What Does "Impaired to the Slightest Degree" Actually Mean?
It is a generally understood principle of law that driving under the influence (DUI) is an unlawful act that carries significant legal consequences for defendants if convicted.
However, there are actually a number of laws that address the varying degrees of DUI offenses.
For example, a general or "standard" DUI offense in Arizona exists when a driver over 21 years drives a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08%.
Higher BAC amounts can lead to triggering the statutory limit for more serious DUI charges, such as the 0.15% requirement for an Extreme DUI offense (A.R.S. §28-1382).
However, there are drinking and driving offenses that exist below the 0.08% level needed to trigger a standard DUI offense.
One of those standards is what Arizona law refers to as "impaired to the slightest degree."
Arizona Law on "Impaired to the Slightest Degree"
In Arizona, drivers charged with a standard DUI can be charged in two separate ways.
First, there is the standard 0.08% offense discussed previously.
Second, however, drivers can also be charged based on being "impaired to the slightest degree", according to §28-1381(a)(1).
This section of Arizona's drinking and driving law effectively says that it is unlawful to drive or be in actual control of a vehicle if the driver is impaired to the slightest degree.
While certainly applying to alcohol, "impaired to the slightest degree" also refers to anyone under the influence of a:
- A vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance
- Any combination of liquor, drugs or aforementioned "vapor releasing substances"
In effect, there are two paths law enforcement can pursue to charge you with a DUI.
Naturally, it is clear that "impaired to the slightest degree" lacks the mathematical precision of the 0.08% (although even blood and breath tests are often neither scientific nor reliable), making it a less certain legal standard.
You may be left wondering how you can be charged with a DUI if you are not driving above the "legal limit" in Arizona.
As a factual matter, Arizona is a zero tolerance state, which simply means there is no legal limit of alcohol that can be consumed.
Beyond these legal definitions, Arizona defense lawyers and law enforcement know that the "impaired to the slightest degree" standard tends to roughly translate into being "tipsy."
Here, law enforcement will use their observations and senses to make a determination that meets this standard.
Note that, under these guidelines, Arizona law enforcement may charge you with a DUI that is not based on your BAC level.
Impaired to the Slightest Degree Should Inform Your Reaction to Police Field Sobriety Requests
The slightest degree standard strongly highlights why Arizona drivers should protect their legal rights and refuse a field sobriety test, specifically.
The slightest degree standard and observations derived from field sobriety are necessarily based on a law enforcement officer's subjective perceptions of driver behavior.
This standard is not objective, and an officer's conclusion may be based on observations like the following:
- Poor driving
- Slow motor skills
- Field sobriety performance
- What is perceived to be alcohol odor
- Driver demeanor
- Slurred speech
- Watery or bloodshot eyes
An impaired to the slightest degree offense is treated as a Class 1 Misdemeanor in Arizona, which is the most serious misdemeanor offense.
Even a first offense misdemeanor DUI conviction can result in jail time and lasting consequences that limit your freedom and future possibilities.
Contact us online to speak with a Phoenix DUI and criminal defense attorney at Tyler Allen Law Firm, PLLC about your DUI case today.