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When Does a DUI Become a Felony?

Man Arrested

In the State of Nevada, when someone is arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol, the charges are normally only a misdemeanor. 

However, some circumstances do exist where the charges are at the felony level. If certain factors are present involving the defendant, the prosecution will be forced to bring felony DUI charges, and with these higher charges come stricter prison sentences and higher fines. 

When Is a Felony DUI Offense Appropriate? 

A DUI is traditionally treated as a misdemeanor in Nevada unless one of the following three situations applies:

  • The individual arrested has two (2) previous DUI convictions that have occurred within the last seven years;  
  • The individual has a previous felony DUI conviction on his or her record; or
  • This specific DUI resulted in a death or serious bodily injury to another person involved. 

If any of these circumstances apply, the individual will be charged with a felony DUI instead of a misdemeanor DUI. 

Third DUI Offense 

If an individual has been arrested and later convicted for a third DUI within seven years of receiving the first DUI conviction, the third conviction will be categorized as a category B felony. As such, the standard sentence is as follows: 

  • Time spent in a Nevada State Prison for a term of one to six years; 
  • Fines ranging from $2,000 to $5,000; 
  • Participation in a Victim Impact Panel; 
  • Installation of a Nevada Breath Interlock Device in the individual’s vehicle for a period of one to three years after release from prison as a condition of that person’s driving privileges being reinstated;
  • A three-year driver’s license suspension or revocation, a five day registration suspension, and a civil penalty fee of $35; and
  • Completion of a drug and alcohol evaluation.  

These penalties apply even if the new DUI conviction involves an incident that would normally be considered relatively minor. The third conviction is treated as a felony DUI and will result in harsher penalties. 

DUI Resulting in Injury or Death

When the DUI arrest and subsequent conviction resulted in an injury to another individual or even a death, the conviction will be a category B felony, which involves the following punishments: 

  • Prison sentence of two to 20 years in Nevada State Prison; 
  • Fines ranging from $2,000 to $5,000; and 
  • Installation of a Breath Interlock Device in the defendant’s car as a condition of reinstating his or her driving privileges. 

Additionally, if the defendant who is accused of a DUI that resulted in death also has three previous DUI convictions on his or her record, he or she will be charged with a Vehicular Homicide, which is a category A felony. The prison sentence for this level of a felony is 25 years in prison or even a life sentence. 

Defenses to Felony DUI

Many different defenses are available to a defendant facing a felony DUI, depending on the specific facts of the case. These defenses include: 

  • Lack of Probable Cause: If the defense can show that the officer did not have probable cause to pull the driver over, meaning the officer did not have probable cause to believe he or she had committed some type of traffic violation or another crime. If the defense can show that this probable cause did not exist, he or she may have a chance of getting the case dismissed. 
  • Issues Regarding the Equipment, Readings or Police Conduct: Sometimes it is possible the officer makes a mistake in administering or reading the test. Other times the chemical tests do not come back with proper results. Even the machinery involved can be broken. If the defense can show that some type of procedural error or fault in the equipment existed, this can be used to either negotiate a better deal or even get the case dismissed. 
  • Lack of Causation: When the felony DUI charge is being brought because an injury or death resulted, the defendant cannot be found guilty if any reasonable doubt exists that the defendant’s intoxicated driving directly caused the injury or fatality. A good defense attorney can poke holes in the prosecution’s argument, leading to doubt that the causation existed. Keep in mind that reasonable doubt is all that is needed to lead to a not guilty verdict.

Bargaining Down a Felony DUI 

Is all hope lost once the defendant’s charge amounts to a felony DUI?  A good criminal defense attorney can often work with the prosecution to get the charges reduced or at least the penalties, specifically the jail time, lowered. The defendant may still spend some period of time in jail, or the attorney may be successful in getting the sentence suspended or reduced to probation. 
Discuss these options with your attorney to see if a possible reduction in charge or reduction in sentencing is possible in your case.

Contact Us Today!

If you have been arrested for a DUI while visiting Nevada, it is important you contact the Hill Firm today. We can meet with you to discuss your rights and all potential legal consequences from your arrest. Contact us today at (702) 848-5000

Dan Hill