The majority of DUI charges in Nevada involve misdemeanor offenses, as that is the usual classification of this criminal offense. In some situations, however, a driver will face more serious felony charges and enhanced penalties. This applies if a driver has 2 prior DUI convictions within the past 7 years or if the driver is accused of causing an accident while DUI that resulted in serious bodily injury to (or the death of) another person. In cases like this, it is important to consult with an experienced Las Vegas felony DUI lawyer.
What is a DUI in Nevada?
DUI stands for “driving under the influence,” and while most may think this just applies to drunk driving, it can also include being under the influence of narcotics, even prescription ones.
Being convicted of a DUI in Nevada is a misdemeanor charge and can mean up to $1,000 in fines and up to 6 months in jail. Misdemeanors are considered the least serious offenses in criminal law.
Though they are considered “minor” crimes, continuing to commit the same offense over and over can bring that charge up to a felony. If you are convicted of driving under the influence 3 or more times, you will likely be charged with felony DUI.
What Causes a Regular DUI to Escalate to a Felony DUI Charge?
While having two prior DUI convictions can cause a third DUI charge to result in a felony, there are other ways DUI charges can escalate to a felony. Causing bodily harm to another or their death can escalate the charges, as can having a prior DUI conviction.
The judge may escalate the charges depending on unique circumstances, such as recklessness, driving with a minor in tow, or the presence of illegal substances in the car. These can also escalate DUI charges to a felony.
Penalties for Felony DUI
With felony DUI charges, you may be facing years of (or even permanent) license suspension and an extensive term in state prison, ranging from 1 to 20 years depending on the particular offense:
- Third DUI Within Seven Years: 1 to 6 years in prison, fine of $2,000 to $5,000, ignition interlock device installation in your vehicle for 1 to 3 years, and driver’s license suspension for 3 years.
- DUI Causing Injury or Death:2 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of $2,000 to $5,000.
Transporting a Child While Driving Under the Influence
In Nevada, driving under the influence with a minor under the age of 15 is considered an aggravating factor. This means a harsher sentence likely involving jail time. The judge may also consider adding on child endangerment charges, which are considered a felony (NRS 200.508). Any additional minor in the car can add its own charge. Penalties for child endangerment following a DUI can include the following:
- If the child was physically or mentally harmed:Category B felony with 2 – 20 years in prison.
- If there was no physical or mental harm but the endangerment was intentional:Category B felony with 1 – 6 years in prison if there are no prior convictions for child endangerment. If there were prior charges, then there may be 2 – 15 years in prison.
- If the child suffered no harm and the endangerment was not intentional:With no prior child endangerment convictions, the punishment is a gross misdemeanor charge with up to 364 days in jail and up to $2,000 in fines. If there were prior convictions, then it is a Category C felony with 1 – 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Other Felony DUI Charges
DUIs involving injuring or killing another are automatically considered felony crimes under Nevada law NRS 484C.430 and NRS 484C.440. These will be handled as either a Category B or Category A felony, respectively.
The punishment for Category B felonies is as follows:
- Anywhere from 2 – 20 years in prison
- Up to $5,000 in fines
- A license revocation
- Installation of an ignition interlock device for 1 – 3 years
The punishment for Category A felonies is as follows:
- 25 years to life imprisonment
- License revocation
- Installation of an ignition interlock device for 1 – 3 years
Reducing Felony DUI Charges to a Misdemeanor Crime
Those who have been charged with a third count of DUI may be able to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor by attending Felony DUI Court. This is a rehabilitation program that takes 3 – 5 years to complete.
If the court rules that a charge cannot be reduced with Felony DUI Court, then the only way to reduce the charge from a felony is to argue that there is a lack of evidence to justify a felony charge. A felony DUI attorney can help build this defense argument and fight to reduce the felony charge.
Some arguments a felony DUI attorney may use to get felony DUI charges dropped include:
- The police lacked probable cause
- There were errors during the field sobriety test administration
- The breath or blood tests were performed incorrectly
- The accused has a medical condition that interfered with their BAC (blood alcohol content) measurement
- There was a lack of evidence to prove the accused was driving under the influence (e., video, medical records, eyewitnesses)
- Proving that the accused has not had any prior DUI offenses
If the prosecutor cannot prove without a reasonable doubt that the accused was guilty of a DUI, then the case may be dropped. An experienced attorney can defend against the prosecutor and prevent them from proving felony DUI charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
Fighting a Felony DUI in Nevada
Immediately involving a drunk driving attorney is the most important thing you can do if you are facing felony charges for driving under the influence. If you are facing felony DUI charges, there are specific strategies that your Las Vegas felony DUI lawyer may utilize in order to seek to avoid a conviction. There are dozens of different issues that may be brought to light and used to weaken the prosecuting attorney’s case against you. Your lawyer’s specific approach will therefore vary depending on the facts of your case.
At the very least, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys could attempt to work out a plea bargain that could help you avoid prison time and reduce the offense down to a misdemeanor. You have the right to legal counsel and choosing to exercise this right as early in the process as possible may make all the difference in your attorney’s ability to protect your driver’s license and help you avoid a criminal conviction.