DUI Under 21: Nevada Laws, Penalties, & Consequences of Underage DUI
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There are not many of us out there who didn’t take part in that high school or college party where alcohol was served. Maybe you just got your license and went to that party, had a drink or two, and thought ‘hey I’m fine I can drive.’
Well, if you are over the age of 21 that might be just the case. If you’re under 21, the legal drinking age in Nevada could be a big problem.
Nevada has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to underage DUI charges.
It is illegal to drive with a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of .02 or higher if you are under the age of 21 regardless of whether or not you are under the influence. If you are over 21, the DUI law states that you are not considered impaired and may drive legally if your BAC is .08 or less.
That is four times the .02 limit for minor drivers.
This zero-tolerance policy was put into place to deter young drivers from getting behind the wheel even if they had just a few sips of alcohol. Another factor to consider is that it is illegal for people under the age of 21 to purchase or consume alcohol in the first place.
Does an Underage DUI Case in Nevada Go to Criminal or Juvenile Court
Like all juvenile cases, this is a complicated topic.
At what age is someone considered an adult? At what age does a minor know right from wrong?
These are all questions that are debated in the court system all the time. Nevada has a clear answer for this when it comes to DUI of underage drivers.
The two factors to consider:
- The driver’s age, and
- The type of drunk driving offense
If the defendant is 18, 19, or 20 years of age, they are prosecuted as adults in criminal court for the DUI offense regardless of whether it’s a misdemeanor DUI or felony DUI.
Drivers charged with DUI under the age of 18 who are arrested for misdemeanor DUI are prosecuted in Juvenile Court.
Any driver under the age of 18 who is arrested for felony DUI may be prosecuted in juvenile or criminal court.
A judge must certify a minor as an adult to send the case to adult criminal court. This only happens in severe cases and it’s up to a judge.
What Are the Penalties for Underage DUI
Under NRS 484C.350, DUI defendants under the age of 21 are required to undergo an alcohol and drug evaluation to determine if they have a substance abuse problem.
The defendant is responsible to pay for this evaluation.
All other penalties will be determined by where the defendant is prosecuted in either criminal adult court or juvenile court.
Juvenile Court Penalties
If the defendant is tried in juvenile court the penalties include:
- Educational classes on the dangers of DUI
- Community service and fines
- An order to avoid any further arrests or citations of any kind for a specific period of time
- A suspended juvenile hall sentence will not be imposed as long as the defendant completes all the other sentence requirements
- License suspension
A juvenile will face all the regular DUI penalties as an adult with the added drug and alcohol evaluation.
Criminal Court Penalties
Remember, defendants under the age of 21 but between the ages of 18 and 20 will be prosecuted in criminal court as adults.
The penalties are the same as an adult first-offense DUI:
- A fine of $400-$1000
- DUI school
- A MADD impact class
- License Suspension for 6 months
- A court-ordered ignition interlock device to be installed in all vehicles they drive
- A six month suspended jail sentence, the defendant will have to report to jail unless they don’t complete the other sentence terms
A second-time DUI case in Nevada even under age requires much harsher sentences including:
- A fine of $750-$1000
- 10 days to 6 months in jail
- DUI School
- A MADD impact class
- License suspension for 1 year
- A court-ordered ignition interlock device to be placed in all vehicles
- A six-month suspended jail sentence after you have completed the 10-day minimum
Sometimes the jail time can be served as either house arrest with a monitor or you can serve the time intermittently over the weekends until you complete your sentence so you don’t have to miss work or school.
Felony DUI or a third DUI offense or a DUI offense involving Substantial bodily injury or death. The penalties include:
- 2 to 20 years in state prison
- A fine of $2000 to $5000
- License suspension for three years
- A court-ordered ignition interlock device to be placed in all vehicles you drive
The defendant pays for all DUI sentence requirements out of pocket regardless of whether or not they are under the age of 21 or not.
Plea Bargain for DUI Under 21
The penalties for underage DUI or otherwise are steep. Nevada wants the penalties to be steep to deter people from drunk driving.
So a plea bargain may be an option to reduce your DUI charges to reckless driving has many benefits.
- Less stigma than a DUI
- A reckless driving charge is not a DUI; therefore, if the defendant gets arrested for DUI again it will be a first offense, not a 2nd
- Reckless driving carries 8 demerit points on your license, whereas a DUI requires a suspension of 6 months for the first offense
- You can seal a reckless driving case after one year, a DUI requires 7 years of waiting time to seal the record.
You will end up going to trial if the D.A. does not agree to a plea bargain.
This is usually a bench trial where the judge decides the verdict.
Felony DUI cases can be either a bench or jury trial.
Most people underage don’t think ahead and only act in the moment. This could have devastating consequences that affect the rest of your life.
Schools, for example, have morality clauses for students or prospective students.
They also have severe consequences for students convicted of criminal offenses including DUI.
These include suspension, expulsion, or disqualification from applying in the first place.
Your car insurance is already at the highest premium when you’re a teenager. If you get arrested for underage DUI, the premium will go through the roof or the insurance company may cancel your policy altogether.
The non-legal penalties can be devastating for a young person’s future.
That is why it’s important to retain experienced DUI counsel if you or a family member is charged with underage DUI.
Defenses Against Underage DUI
The typical defenses against DUI for an adult are the same used to defend a minor or underage defendant, including:
- Lack of probable cause for a traffic stop: if the police have no reason to stop you, a good defense attorney can have the case thrown out
- Faulty breath test equipment: if the breathalyzer was not maintained or calibrated properly, the breath evidence could be excluded
- The defendant was not drinking or taking drugs: a false BAC might register on a faulty test but a blood test can prove the defendant wasn’t drinking or doing drugs
- The driver had a medical condition that caused a high BAC: there are several diseases that cause a false high BAC. Your doctor’s medical notes can be used defense against the a high BAC
- The police did not administer the field sobriety test correctly: There are very specific rules that the police must follow when administering a field sobriety test outlined by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA). If these rules aren’t followed to the letter the test can be considered invalid.
When defending against an underage DUI charge the lawyers will conduct a thorough investigation to examine the evidence.
Your attorney will also use the investigation to uncover any evidence that the police missed.
Your attorney will use surveillance video, police reports, medical records, expert testimony, and eyewitnesses in an effort to get underage DUI charges either reduced or dismissed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you get a DUI under 21?
Yes, you can get a DUI under 21. If you are underage and caught intoxicated while driving, the consequences can be serious depending on your BAC level and whether anyone was injured or killed as a result of your actions.
What happens if you get a DUI under 21?
The consequences for an underage DUI can vary by state. In Nevada, the penalties for an underage DUI conviction depend on whether the minor is tried in a juvenile court or in criminal court as an adult. The driver’s age and the specific circumstances of the case also affects the outcome. If tried as an adult, they face the same consequences that an adult would face in a DUI case. In addition, they may face non-legal consequences such as loss of college scholarships or other educational opportunities.
What is the legal limit for underage DUI?
The legal BAC limit for minors is much lower than it is for adults. In Nevada, the blood alcohol limit for minors is 0.02%, whereas the limit is 0.08% for an adult.
How long is the license suspended for a DUI under 21?
The length of the suspension will depend on the state where you were charged with DUI. In Nevada, if convicted of an underage DUI, you can expect to have your driver’s license suspended for a minimum of 6 months.
Does an underage DUI go away in Nevada?
It depends. In Nevada, a juvenile DUI is automatically sealed when the defendant turns 21. However, if you were above 18 or were convicted as an adult in a criminal court, the sealing of records is only available for misdemeanor DUI convictions. The waiting period for misdemeanor DUIs is 7 years after the case ends. Note, however, that felony DUIs can not be sealed.