An alleged DUI occurred last week in Phoenix with a few interesting twists. A young mother with her newborn baby in the back seat was somehow able to breach security at Sky Harbor International Airport, and ended up driving on the runway. The breach was not the first at Sky Harbor.

In 2003, teenagers driving a stolen vehicle crashed through a fence and onto the runway, resulting in a closure of airport operations. And after a police chase in 2005 that resulted in a stolen pickup truck on the runway, the airport spent about $10 million upgrading its security system. Apparently, the multi-million dollar overhaul wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. In the incident that occurred last week, the woman also crashed through a gate, this one partially open. The woman has been charged with driving under the influence and trespassing.

An interesting aspect of this case is that police say the woman did not show signs of being drunk. On the other hand, when the suspect was stopped, she police say she had her baby’s pacifier in her mouth, refused to talk, and appeared unaware that her child was in the back seat. They claim that she was under the influence of some unidentified drug, and called a drug recognition expert (DRE) to the scene after her arrest. The woman’s mother is quoted as saying that her daughter suffers from mental problems.

However this case turns out, it will present some issues regarding how the prosecution can prove impairment. In that regard, calling yourself a DRE doesn’t necessarily make it so, and only about one in a thousand DRE’s are actually certified as such by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. We expect that the interplay between the possible use of drugs, on the one hand, and the effects of mental illness on one’s behavior, on the other, will be central to the case.

Remember that A.R.S. 28-1381A.1 provides that it is an offense to drive, or to be in actual physical control of a vehicle

“While under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, a vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance or any combination of liquor, drugs or vapor releasing substances if the person is impaired to the slightest degree.”

Whatever the final result may be in the drugged driving case, we expect that the people at airport security in Phoenix have a fair amount of explaining to do. If security can be breached by an allegedly mentally ill woman on drugs, how safe are we from terrorists?

Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(480) 280-8028

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