NRS 484C.350 and NRS 483.462 make it illegal for drivers under 21 years of age to drive in Nevada with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .02 or higher. This is a much stricter standard than for drivers over 21 years of age, for whom the legal limit is a .08 BAC.
Criminal court hears all felony DUI cases, regardless of the defendant’s age. Criminal court also hears all misdemeanor DUI cases involving defendants 18 and older. And juvenile court adjudicates all misdemeanor DUI cases involving defendants under 18.
Underage drivers convicted of intoxicated driving face the same penalties as adult drivers, which typically includes:
- $400 -- $1,000 in fines or community service,
- DUI School or similar traffic safety class,
- a MADD victim impact panel,
- an order to avoid any further violations of law
- a six (6) month suspended sentence in juvenile hall or jail
- a 185-day drivers license suspension for a BAC of .02 or above
In addition, NRS 484C.350 mandates that a medical professional evaluate underage DUI defendants to determine whether they are suffering from drug or alcohol addiction.
Misdemeanor DUI convictions in criminal court may be sealed seven (7) years after the case ends. But felony DUI convictions are unsealable.
Meanwhile, juvenile DUI records get automatically sealed when the defendant turns 21.
Underage drunk driving defendants require an extra careful defense because so much more is at stake, including school and scholarship admissions. Defense attorneys may be able to get the charges reduced to reckless driving or dismissed altogether if they can show that law enforcement made procedural mistakes, or if the breath or blood test results were inaccurate.
In this article, our Las Vegas DUI defense lawyers discuss:
- 1. Zero tolerance law
- 2. Criminal court vs. juvenile court
- 3. Penalties for underage DUI
- 4. Effects on the minor’s driver’s license
- 5. Challenging the case in court
- 6. Record seals
1. What is the zero tolerance DUI policy in Las Vegas, Nevada?
Nevada’s zero tolerance DUI laws prohibit people under 21 from driving with a BAC of .02 or higher. It makes no difference whether the drivers are actually under the influence or not.1
This is in contrast to the more lenient DUI policy for drivers 21 and over. As long as drivers 21 and older are not impaired by alcohol, they may drive with a BAC of less than .08…four times the .02 limit for drivers under 21.2
The zero tolerance double standard under NRS 484C.350 and NRS 483.462 is meant to deter young drivers from taking the wheel even if they had just a few sips of alcohol. After all, it is illegal for people under 21 to drink at all whether or not they are not driving.3
2. Does an underage DUI case in Nevada go to criminal or juvenile court?
It depends on two factors:
- The driver’s age, and
- The type of drunk driving offense
Drivers aged 18, 19 or 20 years old are prosecuted as adults in criminal court. It does not matter whether they are charged with a misdemeanor or felony DUI.4
Meanwhile, drivers under 18 who are arrested for misdemeanor DUI are prosecuted in Juvenile Court.5
Finally, drivers under 18 who are arrested for felony DUI may be prosecuted in juvenile court or criminal court. In order to prosecute the minor in criminal court, the prosecutor has to ask the judge to “certify” the minor as an adult. The judge has discretion whether to grant this certification request.6
3. What are the penalties for underage DUI in Las Vegas, Nevada?
Under NRS 484C.350, DUI defendants younger than 21 are required to submit to an alcohol and drug evaluation to determine whether they have substance abuse problems. This evaluation usually costs $100.7
The remaining penalties depend on whether the driver is prosecuted in juvenile court or criminal court:
3.1. Juvenile Court
If a driver gets adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court on a first-time DUI, the sentence includes:
- educational classes on the dangers of DUI;
- community service and/or fines;
- an order to avoid any further arrests or citations other than minor traffic offenses; and
- a suspended juvenile hall sentence that will not be imposed as long as the defendant completes the other sentencing terms8
3.2. Criminal Court
Under-21 DUI defendants prosecuted in criminal court face the same penalties as adults do. The standard “mandatory minimum” penalties for a first-time misdemeanor DUI conviction include:
- $400 -- $1,000 in fines,
- DUI School,
- a MADD victim impact panel,
- an order to avoid any further arrests or citations other than minor traffic offenses
- The court will order the defendant to install ignition interlock devices in his/her vehicles for 6 months;
- a six (6) month suspended jail sentence, which means the defendant will do no more jail time as long as he/she completes the above sentencing terms
Second time DUI cases in Nevada result in harsher penalties, including mandatory jail time. And it is an automatic felony carrying prison to get a DUI 3rd or a DUI causing serious injury or death. For a complete discussion, refer to our page on Nevada DUI penalties.9
3.2.1 Plea bargain
Depending on the evidence in the case, the defense attorney may be able to persuade the D.A. to reduce the DUI down to reckless driving. This would be beneficial for four main reasons:
- Reckless driving carries less of a stigma than drunk driving.
- If the driver gets arrested for DUI again, the driver will face only DUI 1st charges instead of DUI 2nd charges. This is because the previous DUI charge was reduced to reckless driving and therefore does not count as a prior DUI.
- A DUI case carries a mandatory driver’s license revocation, whereas a reckless driving case carries only eight (8) demerit points.
- There is only a one (1) year waiting period to seal a reckless driving criminal record after the case closes. The waiting period to seal DUIs is seven (7) years.10
If the D.A. does not agree to a good plea bargain, DUI defendants can certainly explore going to trial. Defendants facing misdemeanor charges can have a bench trial (where the judge decides the verdict). Defendants facing felony charges can have a bench trial or a jury trial.11
3.3. Non-legal penalties
Some schools and universities impose their own penalties for students and prospective students who get drunk driving convictions, and they can be far more devastating than what NRS 484C.350 and NRS 483.462 call for. These sanctions may include expulsion, suspension or disqualification from applying in the first place.12
Additionally, car insurance companies tend to be very harsh on underage drivers who pick up DUIs. They may increase the premium rates or even cancel the policy.
Therefore, drivers under 21 who get arrested for intoxicated driving in Nevada are strongly encouraged to retain private counsel to try to get their charges dismissed or reduced.
4. How does an underage DUI affect the defendant’s Nevada driver’s license?
The defendant faces a license suspension, but the length of the suspension depends on the driver’s BAC level and history of DUIs:
4.1. BAC of .02 to under .08
Under NRS 483.462, first-time DUI defendants who are under 21 and with a BAC of at least .02 but less than .08 face a driver’s license suspension of 90 days.13 But it may be possible to get a restricted license after 45 days in order to drive to school, work, or medical appointments. Click click here for the Nevada DMV‘s restricted license application.14
Any successive DUI arrests where the under-21 driver’s BAC is at least .02 but below .08 also carries a mandatory license suspension of 90 days.15
4.2. BAC of .08 or higher
Underage drivers arrested with a BAC of at least .08 face the same license revocation penalties as adult drivers do:16
|DUI offense with BAC of .08 or higher||Length of driver’s license revocation|
|1st-time misdemeanor DUI (within 7 years)||185 days|
A restricted license may be available halfway through the revocation period with an ignition interlock device.
|2nd-time misdemeanor DUI (within 7 years of the first)||1 year|
|3rd-time or successive DUI (within 7 years of the first)||3 years|
A restricted license may be available after 1 year
Furthermore, the defendant needs to maintain SR-22 insurance for three (3) years to reinstate and keep his/her driver’s license.
4.3. DMV hearings
It may be possible to contest a driver’s license suspension or revocation at a DMV administrative hearing. It is like a mini-trial, but it is more difficult to win than a criminal trial.
This is because the DMV judge needs far less proof than a criminal judge to find the defendant in the wrong. But it may still be possible to prevail in a DMV hearing if the police made a procedural mistake, or if the arresting officer does not show up to the hearing.
Note that the DMV hearing is completely separate from the criminal case. Even if defendants get their DUI charge dismissed in criminal court, a DMV judge can still revoke their license. So is it important to hire legal counsel to handle both the criminal and DMV cases to try to save the defendant’s license.17
5. How do I fight underage DUI charges in Las Vegas, Nevada?
Typical defenses that Las Vegas criminal defense 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, the defense attorney may be able to 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 as evidence.
- The driver had not been drinking or taking drugs. If the driver had just rinsed with Listerine for example, the driver might register as having a noticeable BAC even though the driver 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 while driving, this charge should be dismissed.
- The driver had a medical condition that caused a high BAC. Examples include GERD, acid reflux, heartburn, mouth alcohol, diabetes, hypoglycemia, low-carbohydrate diet, auto-brewery syndrome, rising blood alcohol, dentures or other orthodontic devices.
- The police did not administer the field sobriety tests correctly. Cops must follow the rules outlined by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) when administering and scoring the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, one leg stand test, and walk and turn test. Otherwise, the court may disregard the results. This may leave the state with too weak a case to prosecute.
When defending against drunk or drugged driving allegations, a defense attorney would conduct a thorough examination of all the evidence. The attorney would also conduct a thorough investigation to uncover any evidence the police missed. Typically the defense attorney relies on eyewitnesses, surveillance video, medical records, the police report, and expert testimony in an effort to get a DUI charge reduced or dismissed.18
6. Can I get my underage DUI conviction sealed in Nevada?
It depends on two things:
- whether the case was in juvenile court or criminal court, and
- whether the DUI charge was a misdemeanor or a felony
6.1. Juvenile Court
Juvenile DUI records are automatically sealed when the defendant turns 21 years old.19 Defendants can petition to seal the case earlier, but they have to wait three (3) years after the case closes.20
6.2. Criminal Court
The record seal wait time depends on what the defendant is ultimately convicted of:21
|Nevada offense||Record seal wait time|
|Misdemeanor DUI (DUI 1st or DUI 2nd)||7 years after the case ends|
|Reckless Driving||1 year after the case ends|
Calls us if you are facing DUI charges
If you or your child has been charged with driving under the influence while under 21 in Nevada, call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys for a free phone consultation.
Arrested in California? Go to our article on California DUI under 21 laws.
Arrested in Colorado? Go to our article on Colorado DUI under 21 laws.
- NRS 484C.350; NRS 483.462.
- NRS 484C.110 (The legal definition of “DUI under 21” 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.”).
- NRS 202.020.
- NRS 484C.110.
- NRS 62E.640.
- NRS 62B.390.
- NRS 484C.350.
- See NRS 62E.
- NRS 484C.400.
- NRS 179.245.
- Sixth Amendment.
- See, e.g., UNLV Office of Student Conduct.
- NRS 483.461; NRS 484C.210.
- NAC 484C.894; NRS 484C.230.
- NRS 483.461.
- SB 259 (2017).
- NAC 484C.894; NRS 484C.230.
- See Impaired Driving, NHTSA; see Challenges and Defenses II, The National Traffic Law Center.
- NRS 62H.140.
- NRS 62H.130.
- NRS 179.255; NRS 179.245.