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Nevada is known for bad decisions; overnight elopements, outrageous gambling losses, and other regrets that can have serious consequences. But a visit can be especially costly for drivers charged with a DUI resulting in death: Nevada law gives strict penalties when a driver’s impairment causes a serious injury or fatality. If you’re facing charges for a Nevada DUI, here’s what you need to know.

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Nevada DUI Laws: The Basics

It’s against the law to operate a vehicle in Nevada if you are:

  • An adult, non-commercial driver with a BAC of .08 percent or greater within 2 hours of driving
  • A commercial driver with a BAC of .04 percent within 2 hours
  • A driver under the age of 21 with a BAC of .02 percent within 2 hours
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs

A driver’s first and second convictions for DUI in Nevada within seven years will be treated as misdemeanors as long as neither causes substantial bodily harm or death. These carry significant penalties, including fines, license restrictions, and jail time. Consequences also include license suspensions and ‘ignition interlock device’ requirements. Violators may be subjected to mandatory monitoring using an ankle bracelet or required to undergo substance abuse treatment.

There are much more significant consequences for a third DUI or a DUI resulting in death. Nevada law provides that both are felonies. In the case of an impaired accident that causes serious bodily injuries or a DUI resulting in death, Nevada Revised Statute 484C.430 sets out specific mandatory penalties. A finding of “guilty” will result in:

  • Category B felony conviction
  • Imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 20 years
  • A fine of not less than $2,000 or more than $5,000

Convicted drivers will also have to attend a victim impact panel, a class intended to personalize the effects that drunk and drugged driving has on its victims. Upon their release from prison, drivers must have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle for 12 to 36 months. These units prevent vehicle operation until the driver passes a breathalyzer alcohol detection test.

Restrictions On Plea Bargaining Or Negotiating Charges

It can be difficult to negotiate a reduction of the charges in felony DUI cases. Specific language in the statute prohibits a prosecuting attorney from ‘plea bargaining’ with a defendant charged with a DUI resulting in death. Nevada law does not allow a prosecutor to dismiss felony DUI charges in exchange for a plea of guilty, guilty but mentally ill (GBMI), or ‘nolo contendere’ to a lesser charge. However, a prosecutor may still choose to drop the charges based on insufficient evidence, lack of probable cause, or other procedural reasons.

Felony DUI defendants are not eligible for probation. Judges do not have the authority to suspend charges or reduce the mandatory minimums. However, they may take additional factors into account to extend your sentence.

Aggravating Factors For Sentencing In Nevada DUI Cases

As in many other states, Nevada authorities consider a defendant’s prior DUI convictions when determining an appropriate sentence. Offenders with three prior DUI convictions who cause significant bodily harm or death will face charges for vehicular homicide, a category A felony. This charge carries a minimum of 25 years to life in prison and the other penalties attached to category B charges (although a defendant may be eligible for parole after 10 years).

Another important factor can enhance the potential consequences of any DUI conviction, including one for a DUI resulting in death. Nevada law provides that a defendant convicted of DUI faces much harsher penalties if a child under 15 was in the car at the time of the occurrence. This aggravating factor can translate to longer prison terms and fines, harsher driving restrictions, and even child endangerment charges.

Protection Of DUI Offenders

While the Nevada justice system is harsh on DUI offenders, it recognizes that these prisoners aren’t usually hardened criminals. Because of the length of the mandatory minimum sentences, DUI offenders could face imprisonment with peers convicted of murder, robbery, rape, and other violent offenses.

For the safety of prisoners convicted of DUI, Nevada statutes require that the authorities take reasonable steps to segregate them from offenders convicted of violent crimes. If possible, they should be assigned to an institution or facility of minimum security.

Defenses To Nevada DUI Charges

There are a few ways to defend yourself if you have been charged with a DUI involving serious bodily injury or death. In cases involving per se charges (i.e., evidence of a BAC exceeding the legal limit), you may be able to claim that:

  • Officers in the field did not perform sobriety tests correctly and in accordance with the law
  • The breathalyzer used to perform the breath test had not been calibrated recently
  • Blood test samples were contaminated
  • There were discrepancies in the chain of custody for the evidence
  • You have a medical condition (such as GERD) that can cause inaccurate breathalyzer results

An unusual provision in Nevada law allows a defendant to allege, as an affirmative defense, that they were within acceptable BAC levels at the time of the accident but consumed enough to be over the limit after they no longer controlled the vehicle. Although this situation seems improbable, it could protect a defendant who caused an accident while under the limit and immediately knocked back a shot to “steady their nerves” before blood tests were performed. (The ship’s captain claimed a similar defense after the sinking of the Exxon Valdez.)

In cases that don’t rely on BAC evidence, you may be able to prove that you were not actually under the influence or impaired by any substance. For example, you may show evidence of an unanticipated medical emergency, like a stroke or loss of consciousness, that caused the observed impairment and slurred speech. Or you may present evidence that a malfunction in your car’s operating system caused you to lose control and drive erratically.

Charged With A Nevada DUI?

If you face charges in a case involving an accident that caused serious bodily injuries or a DUI resulting in death, Nevada justice can be swift and harsh. Don’t take chances. Have an experienced DUI evaluate your case as soon as possible.

Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation and should not be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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