If you are arrested for allegedly violating Nevada DUI law, you face 2 separate proceedings:
- Criminal court. This is where the prosecution charges you with driving under the influence, which can carry severe penalties if you are found guilty at trial. You can usually avoid trial by entering a plea bargain, where you are sentenced to the minimum punishment or even have your DUI charge reduced to a lesser offense. Depending on the case, your attorney may even be able to persuade the prosecutors to dismiss the charge completely; and
- Nevada DMV administrative proceedings. If you are arrested for allegedly breaking Nevada DUI law, the DMV will suspend your license for several months or even years depending on your case. But you are entitled to a DMV hearing, which is like a trial, to contest the suspension.
If you hire a Las Vegas DUI attorney to represent you, the lawyer will generally handle both of these proceedings on your behalf. You probably will never have to attend court or the DMV hearing. Your Nevada DUI attorney's objective is (a) to keep the DUI charge off your record, and (b) to preserve your driving privileges.
The Criminal DUI Charge in Nevada
Nevada DUI laws (found in NRS 484.379) make it illegal to operate a motor vehicle on a highway or a publicly accessible road under any of the following circumstances:
- If the driver is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs; or
- If the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or greater at the time of the driving.
In other words, operating a car with a BAC of .08 or more is "per se illegal" whether you are driving safely or not. And if your BAC is below .08, you can still be arrested for "driving under the influence in Nevada" as long as the little alcohol in your system is impairing your driving (this often happens to people with low alcohol tolerance).
Nevada DUI law encompasses not only drunk driving but also "drugged driving" as well: You may be arrested for either 1) driving under the influence of drugs, or b) driving while your blood contains the minimum-prohibited amount of various drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroine or morphine. (Read more about Nevada DUI Drug law.)
Arrests in Nevada DUI law
If you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI in Las Vegas, the police may ask you some questions, order you to perform field sobriety tests (such as the Nevada horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the Nevada one leg stand test, and walk-and-turn ), and demand you to submit to a preliminary breath test. If the cop then believes you are intoxicated from drugs or alcohol, you will be arrested and taken to jail.
Depending on your case, you may have the choice between taking an evidentiary breath test or a blood test, and the cop may order a urine test as well. All drivers in Nevada are presumed to have given their "implied consent" to submit to these chemical tests . . . refusing to take these chemical tests will have dire consequences such as:
- being physically forced by the cop to submit to a blood test,
- suspension of your driver's license for three months or more, and
- if your case goes to trial, the judge and jury may construe your refusal as evidence of your guilt.
Note that after the driver is arrested, the cop will typically impound his/her car. For information about Nevada laws re impounding vehicles in DUI cases, go to our article on Nevada laws re impounding vehicles in DUI cases.
Defenses in Nevada DUI law
In order for you to be convicted of DUI in Nevada, the prosecution has to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that you are guilty . . . that is a very high burden of proof. Through thorough case investigation and evidence analysis, your attorney may be able to raise enough reasonable doubt to persuade the prosecutor to dismiss your case or reduce the charge to something more minor.
The following are just a few common Nevada DUI defenses that your attorney may explore using to weaken the state's case:
- The officer lacked sufficient probable cause to pull you over in the first place.
- The chemical test equipment was defective or mishandled.
- The people operating the chemical test equipment were not certified.
- You suffered from a physical condition that caused an inaccurately high BAC reading (for example, learn more about diabetes as a DUI defense in Nevada)
- The defendant has a valid Nevada DUI necessity defense that made it legally permissible for him/her to drive drunk.
Penalties in Nevada DUI law
DUIs in Nevada are normally just misdemeanor crimes . . . but they will be charged as a felony if 1) the incident resulted in someone getting seriously hurt or killed, or 2) you have already been convicted of a misdemeanor DUI twice in the last seven years, or 3) you have already been convicted of a felony DUI.
The standard sentence for a Nevada misdemeanor DUI conviction includes:
- fines of up to $1,000 plus costs,
- Nevada DUI School or DUI Court,
- Victim Impact panel,
- temporary license suspension,
- Up to six months in jail (which can usually be suspended or converted to community service or residential confinement), and
- If your BAC was .18 or higher, the judge will also order a Nevada breath interlock device on your car.
Meanwhile, the standard sentence for a Nevada felony DUI conviction includes several years of imprisonment and fines of $2,000 to $5,000.
Depending on your case, your attorney may be able to get your charges dismissed or reduced to a lesser crime (such as reducing a DUI to Nevada reckless driving or reducing a Nevada DUI to careless driving) so that you do the minimum Nevada DUI penalties, if any.
For more on how to reduce a DUI to reckless driving in Nevada, see our article on how to reduce a DUI to reckless driving in Nevada.
The Nevada DMV Hearing
If you are arrested for breaking Nevada DUI law, the DMV can penalize you by suspending your driver's license before you even get convicted. How long your license will stay suspended turns on whether you have been convicted of a DUI in the past seven years:
- A 1st time DUI suspect faces license suspension for 90 days (but your attorney can usually get you a restricted license after 45 days that allows you to drive to and from work).
- A 2nd time DUI suspect faces license suspension for 1 year.
- A 3rd time DUI suspect faces license suspension for 3 years.
But before your license can be suspended on a Nevada DUI charge, you are entitled to request a Nevada DMV hearing to contest the measure. It is just like a mini-trial where your attorney can present evidence and cross-examine witnesses.
Las Vegas DMV hearings are tougher to win than criminal cases because the state's burden of proof is much lower. But they are still well worth doing because the process might uncover useful evidence that could help resolve your criminal case in your favor. And if the state trooper fails to show up to your hearing, you win by default and keep your driving privileges.
Breath Test Cases
Suppose you were arrested for misdemeanor drunk driving in Las Vegas and elected to take a Nevada DUI breath test. If the Nevada DUI breath test indicates that your BAC reads .08 or higher, the officer will likely confiscate your driver's license right away and give you a temporary driving permit good for only a week. You or your Nevada DUI lawyer must then contact the DMV during those 7 days to request a hearing.
If you do not request a Nevada DMV hearing during the seven days following your arrest, your license stays suspended for the full penalty period. If you do request the hearing, the DMV will issue you a temporary license that stays valid pending the outcome of the DMV hearing. Depending on scheduling issues, the DMV hearing may take place up to several months after the arrest in Las Vegas.
Blood Test Cases
If you got arrested for Las Vegas DUI and took only a Nevada DUI blood test, the officer will not confiscate your driver's license right away. Rather the DMV will wait to see the results of the test, which may take 3 months or more to come back.
If the BAC results of your Nevada DUI blood test come back .08 or higher, the DMV will mail you a notice of license suspension. You or your attorney may then contact the DMV to request an administrative hearing as well as a temporary license to stay valid pending the hearing's verdict.
Temporary and Restricted Driver's Licenses
Nevada DUI defendants with suspended licenses can usually get "temporary driver's licenses" allowing them full driving privileges pending results of a Nevada DMV hearing and then a "restricted driver's license" allowing them limited driving privileges when the suspension period is half over. Learn more about Nevada DUI laws for temporary driver's licenses and restricted driver's licenses in our article on Nevada DUI laws for temporary driver's licenses and restricted driver's licenses.
Contact a Las Vegas DUI Attorney for Further Assistance
If you have further questions, or would like to set up a free consultation to discuss the specifics of your case with an experienced Las Vegas NV DUI lawyer, we invite you to contact us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). Our goal is to persuade the prosecutor to reduce or dismiss your charges, but we are also ready and willing to go all the way to trial for you.