Nevada DUI arrests, court process and trials
Being charged with a Nevada DUI arrest can be a frightening experience. You are facing the loss of your license, increased insurance costs and possible jail time.
But knowing what to expect can make facing a Nevada DUI arrest and court case easier. To help you better understand the Nevada DUI court process from investigation to arrest to trial, our Las Vegas, Nevada DUI defense lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 1. The DUI Investigation
- 2. The Nevada DUI Arrest
- 3. The DUI Booking
- 4. Choosing a Nevada DUI lawyer
- 5. The Nevada DMV Administrative Hearing
- 6. The Stages of a Nevada DUI Trial
A Nevada DUI case starts with a DUI investigation. The investigation starts when an officer suspects you of driving under the influence after a traffic stop or an accident, or at a Nevada sobriety checkpoint / DUI roadblock.
If you exhibit signs of intoxication the officer may ask you to take a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) Test (also known as a preliminary breath test, or “PBT”) or perform a series of roadside field sobriety tests (FSTs).
If you “fail” these tests you may be arrested under NRS 484.379 for:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs; or
- Driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of: 08% or greater (DUI “per se”).1
If you are arrested for DUI, the officer will confiscate your license and send it to the Nevada DMV to be revoked. You have just 7 days from your arrest to request an administrative hearing to contest the Nevada DMV's revocation of your license.
The DMV administrative hearing (if you request one) is different from your criminal DUI case. A criminal case determines whether you are guilty of the crime of driving under the influence. A DMV hearing (discussed in greater detail below) is concerned only with whether there was it is proper to revoke your driving privilege. It exists not to punish you for a criminal act, but to protect public safety. Unlike a criminal case, a Nevada DMV hearing is optional.
After arresting you, the officer will handcuff you and take you to a hospital, police station or jail for a chemical test to measure your blood alcohol level. In most cases you will be offered the choice of a DUI breath test or DUI blood test.
If you refuse to submit to a chemical test in Nevada, your driver's license will be revoked for one year (if it is your first refusal).
After your DUI test(s) or refusal, you will proceed to the booking stage.
During your booking for a Nevada DUI, you will have your fingerprints and photo taken. You will also provide the station with personal information and have your possessions inventoried.
In most cases, you can be released as soon as you have been booked. Depending on the facts of your case and criminal history (if any), you will either be released on your own recognizance – called an “OR” release -- or you may be required to post bail. Bail windows are open 24 hours a day and anyone can post bail for you. Bail for misdemeanor charges is often set according to a standard bail schedule.
After you are released (either on your own recognizance and on bail), the arresting officer will complete a DUI report about your arrest and submit it to the local prosecutor. The prosecutor will review your case and either:
- Decline to file charges, or
- Formally charge you with a Nevada DUI.
You will be issued a citation and formally charged to appear in court on a certain date for your arraignment. If you fail to appear, a bench warrant for your arrest will be issued and your bail (if any) will be forfeited.
You have three options when defending a DUI case:
- Represent yourself (not recommended),
- Use a public defender (subject to your financial status), or
- Hire a private DUI defense attorney.
Representing yourself in a DUI case is generally a bad idea. While it may save you money in the short run, in the long run, it pays to get the best Las Vegas DUI attorney you can reasonably afford. A successful DUI defense often relies on technical and/or scientific evidence and expert testimony. A lawyer with experience defending DUI cases offers you the best chance of getting your case dismissed or reducing your Nevada DUI charges through a plea bargain.
Public defenders understand the Nevada court system and often have good relationships with prosecutors and judges. However, they frequently have a high case load and are assigned to you at random.
Retaining your own private attorney offers you the opportunity to shop around for a lawyer who has the experience, time and resources to mount the best defense to your Nevada DUI charges.
When you are released after your DUI arrest, the police will usually issue you a temporary license that is good for 7 days. This gives you time to request an administrative hearing from the Nevada DMV to contest revocation of your license.
If you fail to request a hearing within the 7-day period, the DMV will automatically revoke your license. Provided you request the hearing, your temporary license will be extended until the hearing date.
Nevada DMV hearings are similar in many ways to trials. They are heard in front of a judge and are open to the public. You have the right to be represented by an attorney and to call and cross-examine witnesses.
While it is often harder to win a DMV hearing than a criminal case and the outcome will not affect your criminal charges, it is usually worth trying. Sometimes the officer who arrested you does not show up and you win by default.
And even if you lose, the DMV hearing is a good opportunity for your Nevada DUI defense attorney to cross-examine the officer on the record. This can possibly be used to impeach the officer's testimony or leverage a plea bargain in your criminal DUI case.
To learn more about the consequences of a Nevada DUI license hearing, please see our article: How Long Will My Driver's License Be Revoked for a Nevada DUI?
A DUI case has several distinct stages, not all of which may apply:
This is where you are formally charged and enter your plea (not guilty, no contest, or guilty). If you have retained a lawyer, you usually do not have to go to the arraignment yourself. Your lawyer can enter a plea on your behalf. Assuming you are pleading “not guilty,” the prosecutor will give your lawyer the evidence (called "discovery") and the judge will schedule the next court date.
Negotiation and possible plea bargain
After the arraignment, your attorney and the prosecutor will often try to negotiate a resolution to avoid trial. If the case against you is weak, your lawyer may be able to convince the prosecutor to dismiss the charges. Or he or she may be able to negotiate a plea bargain to a less serious offense, such as Nevada reckless driving.
If the prosecutor and your lawyer cannot negotiate a quick resolution, your DUI case will proceed to the pre-trial phase. This may involve anything from pre-trial motions to exclude evidence or challenge your arrest, to interviewing witnesses and strategizing with experts.
If you were charged with misdemeanor DUI, the pre-trial phase may last a few months at most. Felony DUI cases tend to take longer, if only because there is at least one pre-trial hearing (and typically several).
During the pre-trial phase, negotiations between the prosecutor and your attorney will usually continue. It is not uncommon for the lawyers to reach a bargain even as late as the day of trial.
Nevada felony DUI defendants may elect to have either a bench trial or a jury trial. Your Nevada DUI lawyer will discuss these options with you and help you decide which choice makes the most sense based on the facts of your case.
Nevada felony DUI jury trials consist of several phases:
- Jury selection (called "voir dire");
- Opening arguments;
- Direct examination of witnesses;
- Cross-examination of witnesses by opposing counsel;
- Closing arguments;
- Verdict; and
To learn more about these phases of a DUI trial, please see our article: Taking a Nevada DUI case to Trial.
To learn about possible DUI penalties, please see our article: DUI Penalties in Nevada.
Arrested for DUI in Las Vegas or Reno? Call us for help…
If you have been accused of DUI in Clark County, Washoe County or elsewhere in Nevada, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.
Our caring Las Vegas, Nevada DUI defense attorneys are experienced in all phases of Nevada DUI cases – from trials to DMV hearings to appeals.
To schedule your free consultation, complete the form on this page or call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). Don't let a DUI arrest rob you of your freedom or your right to drive without talking to a top Nevada DUI lawyer first!
To learn about California DUI cases, please see our article, The Court Process in California DUI Cases.
- If you are under 21, you over the "legal limit" in Nevada when your BAC is .02% or higher. NRS 484C.350.