It is illegal for minors under 21 years of age to drive in Nevada with a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .02 or higher. If it is at least .02 but less than .08, they face a lengthy license suspension. If it is at least .08, then they face the same criminal charges as adults.
In this article, our Las Vegas DUI defense lawyers explain Nevada underage DUI law and how to fight charges so as to minimize the penalties and long-term fallout.
Definition (NRS 484C.350)
The legal definition of "DUI under 21" in Las Vegas is that it is a crime for a person younger than twenty-one years old to have been drinking or taking drugs and "to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle on a highway or on premises to which the public has access."
Certainly, no one of any age is ever allowed to drive drunk or intoxicated in Las Vegas. But adults are permitted to have more alcohol in their system than minors are while they are behind the wheel:
Zero Tolerance & The .02 BAC Legal Standard
Adults may operate a car with a Nevada blood alcohol content (BAC) of less than .08 as long as they are not under the influence. However, it is automatically illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drive with a BAC that exceeds .02-whether they are actually under the influence or not.
This double standard is part of Nevada's "zero tolerance" policy for minors less than 21 years old. In an effort to promote highway safety as well as to punish underage drinking, the NHP or local police will arrest any minor under twenty-one for DUI for having a BAC of at least .02 irrespective of how they are driving.
Criminal Court versus Juvenile Court for underage DUIs in Nevada
Children under 18 who are arrested for misdemeanor-level DUI are usually prosecuted in Juvenile Court. Meanwhile, children under 18 arrested for a felony-level DUI in Nevada may be certified as an adult and prosecuted in criminal court, where the typical DUI punishments would apply. The judge has discretion to grant the prosecutor's certification request. (NRS 62E.640; NRS 483.490) Finally, children ages 18 to 20 who are arrested for DUI are charged in criminal court. Read more about Nevada juvenile court laws. For information about the Nevada crime of minor possession of alcohol, read our article on the Nevada crime of minor possession of alcohol.
Being arrested for underage DUI laws in Nevada can be intimidating. But remember: being accused does not guarantee a conviction . . . the prosecutor must overcome a very high standard of proof in order to prevail.
Typical defenses that Las Vegas DUI lawyers use in underage drunk driving cases include:
- Lack of probable cause for the traffic stop. If the police pulled over the driver without legal justification, that usually means we can get the whole case thrown out of court.
- Faulty breath test equipment. If the breathalyzer was not maintained or calibrated properly, the breath test evidence could get excluded.or at least rendered unreliable.
- The driver had not been drinking or taking drugs. If the driver had just rinsed with Listerine for example, she might register as having a noticeable BAC even though she did not consume any alcohol.
- The driver did not begin drinking or taking drugs until after he/she stopped driving the car. If the prosecutor cannot prove that the driving was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, this charge should be dismissed.
Penalties (NRS 484C.350; NRS 483.461)
Drivers under age 21 arrested for a first-time offense of driving with a BAC of at least .02 but less than .08 will have their license suspended or revoked for ninety (90) days. They also have to attend an alcohol assessment and treatment program. For a second-time offense of driving with a BAC of at least 0.02 but less than .08, the Nevada DMV will suspend their license again, probably for a longer period of time.
For drivers convicted of DUI with a BAC of at least .08, the penalties are the same as for adults. But there are two exceptions:
- Underage offenders also have to submit to an alcohol & drug evaluation to determine whether they have a substance abuse problem, and it costs about $100.
- Underage offenders will have their drivers licenses suspended for at least ninety days even if their BAC was below .08.
Otherwise, minors face standard DUI penalties, which include:
- Nevada DUI School,
- a MADD victim impact panel,
- 2 days to six months in juvenile hall or jail (that is usually suspended and/or converted to community service),
- a 7-year waiting period before they may seal their DUI criminal record
Penalties get exponentially harsher for each successive conviction, and Nevada DUI causing serious injury or death is charged as a felony and mandates prison time and heavy fines. For a complete discussion, refer to our page on Las Vegas NV DUI penalties.
It is worth noting that some schools and universities impose their own penalties for students and prospective students who get DUI convictions. These sanctions may include expulsion, suspension or disqualification from applying in the first place.
This is yet another reason why drivers under 21 who get arrested for DUI in Nevada are strongly encouraged to retain private counsel to try to get their charges dismissed or reduced so their schools cannot penalize them for it.
If a minor faces DUI charges and the prosecutors refuse to dismiss the case completely, the defense attorney may be able to convince them instead to reduce the charge to Reckless Driving in Nevada. Reckless driving in Nevada has less of a stigma than drunk driving and can be sealed from their criminal record after only one year as opposed to seven.
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.
Calls us if you are facing DUI charges . . .
If you or your child has been charged with DUI under 21 in Nevada, call our Las Vegas DUI defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free phone consultation. We will do everything to fight the charge and get penalties minimized.
For California DUI under 21 laws, go to our article on California DUI under 21 laws.