Nothing puts a damper on celebrating American freedom quite like criminal charges. But for several hundred Phoenix residents, that’s exactly what they’ll be facing after this weekend’s festivities. Between DUIs and illegal fireworks, Independence Day is one of the busiest days of the year for police. If you wake up on July 5th with more than just a hangover, you may find yourself needing the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer. If that’s the case, know that Lerner and Rowe Law Group is available 24/7 (including holidays) to help you.
Of course, the better option is to skip being arrested altogether and just enjoy the holiday safely with loved ones. That’s why we’ve created the following guide to staying out of legal trouble on the Fourth of July.
Fourth of July DUIs
Many people enjoy alcoholic beverages as part of a Fourth of July celebration. According to WalletHub, Americans plan to spend a whopping $1.4 billion on beer and wine for the holiday weekend. In addition, unlike last year’s socially distant COVID-19 celebrations, people are expected to be and about this weekend, with as many as 47 million people planning on traveling 50 miles or more to visit family and friends.
With so many people on the roads, the chances of being in a car accident increase. Combine that with tipsy, drunk, or stoned drivers getting behind the wheel and you’ve got a recipe for unnecessary accidents, injuries, and DUI charges.
Arizona is well-known across the country for having some of the harshest DUI penalties. During big drinking holidays like the Fourth of July, you can bet that Phoenix law enforcement will set up checkpoints to track down drunk drivers. Under Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) 28-1381, it is illegal to drive or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol, drugs, toxic vapor releasing substances, or any combination of the three. This means you can get pulled over, arrested, and charged with a DUI for what the law refers to as impairment to the slightest degree—that is, you can have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of less than 0.08% and still be charged and convicted.
A first offense for DUI is classified as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Penalties may include:
- A maximum jail sentence of six months (a mandatory minimum of 10 days)
- Up to $2,500 in total fines and fees
- Driver’s license suspension of at least 90 days
- Installation of an Ignition Interlock Device
- Probation up to three years
- Community service
- Mandatory drug & alcohol assessment
- Alcohol education class
- Alcohol or substance abuse counseling or in-patient treatment
- Eight points assessed to driver’s license
- Requirement to attend Traffic Survival School (TSS
A DUI conviction can stay on your record for seven years and influence future DUI cases. Penalties for subsequent DUIs are even more severe. Further, if you are to blame for a DUI-related traffic fatality in Arizona, you could be charged with negligent homicide, manslaughter or second-degree murder (all of which carry stiff penalties).
Avoiding a DUI on the Fourth of July is simple if you just plan ahead. That means choosing a designated driver, using a rideshare service, or asking a sober friend to drop you off and pick you up if you plan on drinking during the holiday weekend. If you’re driving, set a limit on the number of drinks you have, be sure to eat a full meal beforehand, and continue hydrating throughout the evening. Most importantly, have a backup plan for the night in case you overindulge.
Illegal Fireworks in Phoenix
Arizona’s fireworks laws changed in 2014. They now allow the sale and use of permissible consumer fireworks. However, those fireworks considered more likely to cause injury or property damage are still illegal.
According to the City of Phoenix, legally permissible fireworks include:
- Cylindrical and cone fountains
- Ground spinners
- Ground sparkling devices
- Spinning wheels
- Illuminating torches
- Smoke devices
- Glow worms
- Snap caps
- Party poppers
All other types of fireworks are illegal and having these in your possession could land you in hot water. Illegal fireworks include anything that detonates in the air. Banned fireworks in Phoenix include:
- Bottle rockets
- Sky rockets
- Roman candles
- Single-tube devices with reports
- Reloadable shell devices
Violating any of Arizona’s fireworks laws could land you in a courtroom. Remember, only consumers aged 16 and older can purchase legal fireworks at properly permitted facilities from May 20 to July 6 for use between June 24 and July 6.
The penalty for selling, buying or using fireworks outside these dates is a fine of $1,000. If you are caught using illegal fireworks or violate local city codes while using permissible fireworks, you could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor and face civil penalties that range between $150 to $1,000.
There is also a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000 for shooting fireworks on state land or preservation lands owned by the city. You may face further penalties for shooting fireworks during any State Stage One Fire Restriction or if you start a fire while using fireworks.
Intentional and Accidental Fires
A fun Fourth of July weekend can go up in smoke if you’re not responsible. Being careless while using fireworks, using illegal fireworks, or leaving a barbecue fire or fire pit unattended could all lead to a fire, causing property damage and even injury to others.
Even if you don’t deliberately start a fire, you could still face severe criminal penalties. And, if the court determines the fire was intentional, penalties will escalate from a misdemeanor to a felony.
If you knowingly and maliciously set fire to a structure, property or wildland, you can be convicted of arson. Arson of an unoccupied structure or property may be classified as anything from a class 1 misdemeanor to a class 4 felony (depending on the value of the destroyed property) and result in six months to 3.75 years in prison. Arson of an occupied structure is a Class 2 felony, no matter the property value, and is punishable by up to 12.5 years in prison.
If you inadvertently start a fire, you could be charged with arson, but it is also possible that you’ll be charged with reckless burning. While penalties for reckless burning are typically less serious than arson, they still should not be taken lightly. Reckless burning that results in damage of occupied or unoccupied structures, property or wildlands is typically considered a Class 1 misdemeanor, which can include fines up to $2,500 and up to six months in jail.
Boating Under the Influence
Boating is also a popular pastime on the Fourth of July. Unfortunately, the holiday is also often the deadliest time of the boating season. According to the American Boating Association, the 4th of July, along with Memorial Day and Labor Day, typically accounts for more than one-third of all boating related accidents and fatalities.
If you’re planning on taking your boat out on Bartlett Lake or Canyon Lake, follow these safety tips to prevent a boating accident:
- Wear a life jacket, and be sure that there are enough life jackets on board for every passenger.
- Keep all equipment functioning properly, especially navigation lights if you plan on venturing out after dark to enjoy a firework display on the water.
- Make sure to prepare for emergencies.
- File a float plan with a friend or relative.
- Watch for other boats, swiftly changing weather, or other potential dangers.
- Lastly, practice caution, courtesy and common sense.
Another crucial tip: never mix drinking and boating. Like drinking and driving, it is illegal. Anytime you operate a vessel on Arizona waters, you consent to being tested for alcohol or drugs. Should you fail a sobriety or chemical test and be arrested by a law enforcement officer, you can be charged with Operating Under the Influence (OUI), which can result in fines up to $1,450 and 10 days in jail. You’ll face even stiffer penalties for Extreme OUI, Super Extreme OUI, Aggravated OUI, or if you cause a boating accident while under the influence.
Hire a Top Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney
DUI, OUI, illegal fireworks, arson, reckless burning are just a few criminal charges that can put a damper on your Independence Day celebration. If you run into any trouble during the holiday weekend, an experienced Phoenix criminal defense attorney at Lerner and Rowe Law Group can help you in understanding your legal rights. We also offer free initial consultations and affordable payment plans, so you can get the representation you deserve.