Felony DUI court, known as the Serious Offender Program, allows third offense DUI defendants in Nevada may avoid prison and a felony conviction by completinga rigorous course of counseling, treatment and house arrest. The program requires 3 to 5 years of:
- substance abuse counseling,
- alcohol and drug testing (including SCRAM anklets),
- breath interlock devices,
- 6 months of house arrest, and
- other terms the judge deems appropriate
Upon successful completion of the program, the defendant gets a DUI second conviction, which is only a misdemeanor. This is preferable to a felony DUI conviction, which carries 1 to 6 years in Nevada State Prison.
In this article, our Las Vegas DUI defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is Felony DUI Court in Nevada?
- 2. What are the benefits?
- 3. Am I eligible?
- 4. What is it like?
- 5. How do I apply?
- 6. What if I relapse or break the rules?
- 7. What if I do not finish Nevada Felony DUI Court?
- 8. How much will it cost me?
- 9. What if this is only my first or second DUI?
- 10. What if I do not live in Nevada?
Also learn about Misdemeanor DUI Court (Moderate Offenders Program) in Nevada.
Felony DUI Court...called the "Serious Offenders Program" in Clark County...allows eligible third-time DUI defendants to avoid prison by completing rehab instead. Upon successful completion, the defendant's felony DUI charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor second-time DUI conviction.1
In short, Felony DUI Court is an alternative sentencing program that aims to rehabilitate through counseling rather than punish through incarceration.
The Serious Offenders Program is the only way a third-time DUI defendant may avoid prison (unless the D.A. is willing to plea bargain). It is a very intensive and rigorous program that lasts three to five (3 - 5) years.2 So defendants should consider it only as a last resort when a charge reduction or dismissal is unavailable.
In order to be considered for the Serious Offenders Program, the defendant has to meet all of the following criteria:
- The defendant is a drug or alcohol addict,
- The defendant has no more than two (2) misdemeanor DUI convictions in the last seven (7) years,
- The defendant is currently charged with a third-time DUI, which is a felony, and
- The defendant has never killed or seriously hurt anyone while driving under the influence.3
Note that past DUI arrests that were reduced or dismissed do not count as prior DUIs. Henderson criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example:
Example: Dawn was just arrested for DUI. She had three prior DUI arrests in the last seven years, but one of them was reduced to reckless driving. Since she has only two prior DUI convictions, she is theoretically eligible for the Felony DUI Court program.
Had Dawn in the above example had three prior DUI conviction in the last seven years, she would be ineligible for Felony DUI Court.
Felony DUI Court typically lasts three (3) years, but it can extend to no more than five (5) years. The defendant is assigned a case manager who makes specific recommendations to the court about the length of the treatment and necessary terms.4
The Serious Offenders Program proceeds in several phases and typically consists of the following requirements:
|Felony DUI School requirements||Details|
“Status check” meetings with the judge
These meetings start weekly. But as the defendant successfully works through the program, these meetings dwindle to once every 3 months.
In Clark County, the Serious Offenders Program meets on Thursdays.
House arrest (“residential confinement”) for at least the first 6 months of the program
The defendant may leave home for work and any DUI Court obligations. The defendant may also have to wear a SCRAM device (pictured above) that monitors whether he/she has had alcohol.
An ignition interlock device installed in all the defendant's cars for at least 1 year.
Also called a “breath interlock device (BID)”, this device is installed in the defendant's car and notifies authorities if the driver's breath test detects a blood alcohol content of .02 or above.
Group counseling such as Alcoholics Anonymous as well as individual counseling.
Counseling usually meets twice a week, but over time it may be reduced to weekly.
Periodic alcohol testing
The judge and case manager determine the frequency.
Other terms individual to the specific defendant
For example, the judge may also give the defendant a curfew and suspend his/her driver's license.
If the defendant successfully completes all the terms of the Serious Offenders Program, his/her felony DUI charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor second-time DUI conviction.5 Judges may even throw mini-ceremonies, where the court staff applauds the DUI School "graduates," and everyone feasts on cupcakes. At one ceremony, a judge rewarded a new graduate who had struggled with the program by allowing her to smash a cake in his face.6
Defendants who do not complete the program are convicted of third-time DUI, which is a felony.7 Scroll down to question 7 for DUI 3rd penalties.
The process of applying to the Serious Offenders Program involves the following four steps:
- The defendant and his/her attorney appear in District Court, where the defendant pleads guilty or "nolo contendere" to a DUI third. At that time, the attorney submits a completed application for Felony DUI Court. The attorney also submits a substance abuse evaluation completed by a certified counselor or physician that claims the defendant is an addict.
- The judge will then direct the defendant to meet with the Nevada Division of Parole and Probation. The Division will then compose a Presentence Investigation Report for the case, which gives its opinion about the defendant's suitability for DUI Court.
- Within ten (10) days of receiving notice of the DUI Court application, the prosecutor may request a hearing to contest it. The judge may also request a hearing if the judge has concerns about the defendant's suitability for the program.
- If the judge grants the application, the judge will suspend the defendant's prison sentence while the case is transferred to DUI Court. The defendant will then be ordered to report to Pretrial Services, who will instruct him/her how to begin the DUI Court program.
If a defendant does not get accepted to Felony DUI Court in Las Vegas, he/she will face regular Nevada felony DUI penalties.8
The application process for the Clark County Felony DUI Court program is very time-sensitive and technical, and not everyone is accepted. Therefore, it is highly recommended the defendant retain counsel to ensure it is done correctly.
The Serious Offenders Program punishes relapses and mistakes on a case-by-case basis. The judge considers the defendant's criminal history, how far along he/she is in the program, and the circumstances of the incident.
For example, a judge may levy the following punishments on a DUI court participant who got caught with alcohol in his/her system:
- Bumping the defendant back to the first phase of the Serious Offenders Program,
- Serving two (2) weeks in jail, and/or
- Installing alcohol breath-testing devices in the defendant's home that record the defendant breathing into it and transmit the video footage and test results to the case manager.
Many Las Vegas judges allow program participants at least "one strike" before terminating them from the Serious Offenders Program completely. However, anyone who picks up another DUI during the course of treatment gets automatically expelled from the program and sent to prison to serve out his/her original felony sentence.9
People who do not finish the Serious Offenders Program gets expelled from the program and are ordered to complete their original felony sentence. The punishment includes:
- 1 to 6 years in Nevada State Prison;
- $2,000 to $5,000 in fines;
- Victim Impact Panel attendance;
- an alcohol/drug dependency evaluation;
- a Nevada breath interlock device in the defendant's car for 1 - 3 years; and
- a 3-year driver's license revocation (with the possibility of a restricted license after 1 year)10
Furthermore, the defendant will not be eligible to participate in DUI Court again.11
The Serious Offenders Program costs about $11,000 to $15,000 in total over the course of the program. However, applicants with limited resources may be able to pay less under a sliding fee scale.
The costs go towards the following expenses:
- evaluation fee (one-time fee),
- electronic monitoring,
- supervision fees,
- counseling fees, and
- breath ignition devices12
Only Nevada defendants charged with their third DUI (within the last seven years) are eligible for the Serious Offenders Program. People charged with just a first or second DUI may be eligible to do "Misdemeanor DUI Court" in lieu of incarceration.
In Clark County, misdemeanor DUI court is called the "Moderate Offenders Program." The requirements typically include court monitoring, ninety (90) days of house arrest, unannounced checks, one-on-one counseling, and a SCRAM anklet. Depending on the plea bargain the defendant agrees to, successful completion of the program may result in the DUI conviction getting reduced to a less serious offense.
It depends on how flexible the judge and prosecutor are. Out-of-state defendants might be able to do a similar DUI Court program in their home state. But ultimately the court handles these requests case-by-case.13
Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney...
Arrested for felony DUI in Nevada? Our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers may be able to negotiate with prosecutors so your case gets dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense and you avoid DUI Court completely. Call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation.
Nevada Senate Bill 277 (2017).; see Specialty Court Program Overview, Nevada Supreme Court; NRS 484C.340 Application by third-time offender to undergo a program of treatment; sentencing of offender and conditional suspension of proceedings; requirements to participate in the program of treatment; certain previous convictions preclude the offender from participating in the program of treatment.
1. An offender who enters a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a violation of NRS 484C.110 or 484C.120 that is punishable pursuant to paragraph (c) of subsection 1 of NRS 484C.400 may, at the time the offender enters a plea, apply to the court to undergo a program of treatment for alcoholism or drug abuse for at least 3 years. The court may authorize that treatment if:
(a) The offender is diagnosed as an alcoholic or abuser of drugs by:
(1) An alcohol and drug abuse counselor who is licensed or certified, or a clinical alcohol and drug abuse counselor who is licensed, pursuant to chapter 641C of NRS, to make that diagnosis; or
(2) A physician who is certified to make that diagnosis by the Board of Medical Examiners; and
(b) The offender agrees to pay the costs of the treatment to the extent of his or her financial resources.
--> An alcohol and drug abuse counselor, a clinical alcohol and drug abuse counselor or a physician who diagnoses an offender as an alcoholic or abuser of drugs shall make a report and recommendation to the court concerning the length and type of treatment required for the offender.
2. A prosecuting attorney may, within 10 days after receiving notice of an application for treatment pursuant to this section, request a hearing on the matter. The court shall order a hearing on the application upon the request of the prosecuting attorney or may order a hearing on its own motion.
3. At the hearing on the application for treatment, the prosecuting attorney may present the court with any relevant evidence on the matter. If a hearing is not held, the court shall decide the matter and other information before the court.
4. If the court determines that an application for treatment should be granted, the court shall:
(a) Immediately, without entering a judgment of conviction and with the consent of the offender, suspend further proceedings and place the offender on probation for not more than 5 years.
(b) Order the offender to complete a program of treatment for alcoholism or drug abuse with a treatment provider approved by the court. If the court has a specialty court program for the supervision and monitoring of the person, the treatment provider must comply with the requirements of the specialty court, including, without limitation, any requirement to submit progress reports to the specialty court.
(c) Advise the offender that:
(1) He or she may be placed under the supervision of a treatment provider for not more than 5 years.
(2) The court may order the offender to be admitted to a residential treatment facility or to be provided with outpatient treatment in the community.
(3) The court will enter a judgment of conviction for a violation of paragraph (c) of subsection 1 of NRS 484C.400 if a treatment provider fails to accept the offender for a program of treatment for alcoholism or drug abuse or if the offender fails to complete the program of treatment satisfactorily. Any sentence of imprisonment may be reduced by a time equal to that which the offender served before beginning treatment.
(4) If the offender completes the treatment satisfactorily, the court will enter a judgment of conviction for a violation of paragraph (b) of subsection 1 of NRS 484C.400.
(5) The provisions of NRS 483.460 requiring the revocation of the license, permit or privilege of the offender to drive do not apply.
5. The court shall administer the program of treatment pursuant to the procedures provided in NRS 458.320 and 458.330, except that the court:
(a) Shall not defer the sentence or set aside the conviction upon the election of treatment, except as otherwise provided in this section; and
(b) May enter a judgment of conviction and proceed as provided in paragraph (c) of subsection 1 of NRS 484C.400 for a violation of a condition ordered by the court.
6. To participate in a program of treatment, the offender must:
(a) Serve not less than 6 months of residential confinement;
(b) Install, at his or her own expense, a device for not less than 12 months;
(c) Not drive any vehicle unless it is equipped with a device;
(d) Agree to be subject to periodic testing for the use of alcohol or controlled substances while participating in a program of treatment; and
(e) Agree to any other conditions that the court deems necessary.
7. An offender may not apply to the court to undergo a program of treatment for alcoholism or drug abuse pursuant to this section if the offender has previously applied to receive treatment pursuant to this section or if the offender has previously been convicted of:
(a) A violation of NRS 484C.430;
(b) A violation of NRS 484C.130;
(c) A homicide resulting from driving or being in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a controlled substance or resulting from any other conduct prohibited by NRS 484C.110, 484C.130 or 484C.430;
(d) A violation of paragraph (c) of subsection 1 of NRS 484C.400;
(e) A violation of NRS 484C.410; or
(f) A violation of the law of any other jurisdiction that prohibits the same or similar conduct as set forth in paragraph (a), (b), (c) or (d).
8. As used in this section, “device” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 484C.450.
- David Ferrara, Judge takes cake for DUI program graduate, Las Vegas Review-Journal (March 14, 2015).
- NRS 484C.340.
- NRS 484C.400.
- NRS 484C.340.
- See, e.g., Felony DUI Court Treatment Program Quick Reference, Carson.org; also see Specialty Courts Programs Nevada at a Glance, Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice (NRS 176.0123) (March 17, 2008).
- NRS 458.325.