First Offense DUI

In Nevada, driving under the influence (DUI) is a priorable offense, so its penalties increase with each subsequent offense. However, this should not mislead you into believing that a first-time DUI does not have grievous penalties.

A conviction of a first-offense DUI can result in severe penalties, including possible jail time and a criminal record. This is why, when facing first-offense DUI charges, hiring a defense attorney who can help you build a solid defense strategy is crucial.

At The Law Offices of Martin Hart, our team of defense lawyers in Las Vegas has helped numerous individuals facing DUI charges avoid criminal convictions. Contact us today if you or a loved one has been charged with a first-time DUI and require legal representation.

The Legal Definition of First-Offense DUI

Nevada NRS 484C. 400 states that driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is unlawful. A first-offense DUI is a DUI charge typically imposed on defendants who do not have any prior DUI convictions within a ten-year look-back period.

The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for all motorists in Nevada is 0.08 %. However, commercial drivers have a BAC limit of 0.04 %. Also, drivers under 21 are not permitted to drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in their blood. You will be charged with DUI if you exceed the stipulated limits.

You can still be charged with DUI even if you did not exceed the BAC limit, as long as the prosecutor can prove that you were intoxicated. Normally, for a DUI involving drugs, law enforcement will conduct a blood test. You can still face DUI charges even if the drugs involved were prescription medication.

What the Prosecutor Must Prove

The prosecutor must prove certain elements beyond a reasonable doubt before the court can convict you of a first-time DUI. These include:

You Were Driving

The prosecutor must prove that you were driving or physically controlling the vehicle during the arrest. While this element may seem straightforward to prove, it can be a point of contention in certain cases.

In most cases, the prosecutor typically relies on oral testimony from law enforcement to prove that you were driving. Note that you can still be convicted of DUI even if you were not driving the vehicle - but there is evidence showing that you were in actual physical control of the car at the time of the arrest.

Being in actual physical control of the vehicle means that even though you were not actively driving the car, you had the ability to operate the vehicle, such as sitting behind the wheel with the keys in the ignition, even if the car is stationary. Courts in Nevada consider various factors to determine whether the defendant had actual physical control of the car, including the following:

  • Location — Where was the vehicle parked or stopped? Was it in a location where it could easily be put in motion?
  • Position of the defendant — Was the defendant in the driver's seat? Were they in a position to easily operate the vehicle?
  • Key possession — Did the defendant have control over the vehicle’s keys? Were the keys in the ignition or readily accessible to the defendant?
  • Observable behavior — Did law enforcement observe the defendant attempting to operate the vehicle, even if unsuccessful?

Depending on the circumstances, your attorney can help you challenge this element. For example, if you were not in the driver's seat or not in a position to easily operate the vehicle, it may cast doubt as to whether you were in actual physical control of the vehicle.

You Were Intoxicated

The prosecutor must prove that you were intoxicated, which hindered your ability to safely operate the vehicle. Intoxication can result from the consumption of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.

As earlier explained, the prosecutor may rely on your BAC test results to prove intoxication. The prosecutor can also rely on observable signs of impairment that you may have exhibited, such as slurred speech, impaired motor coordination, erratic driving behavior, and the inability to perform field sobriety tests satisfactorily.

In most cases, legal defense strategies for first-offense DUI revolve around challenging this element. Your defense attorney can question the reliability and accuracy of breath or blood tests and dispute the validity of the police officer’s observations of the defendant's behavior.

The Punishments for First-Offense DUI

In Nevada, a first-offense DUI is categorized as a misdemeanor. Based on the circumstances, a conviction can result in a jail sentence ranging between two days and six months.

In addition to the jail term, you may also face the following penalties:

  • A fine between $400 - $1,000, together with court costs.
  • Attending an online DUI education program for eight hours.
  • A court order to participate in a victim impact panel program, for example, a MADD lecture.
  • A requirement to apply for SR-22 insurance for three consecutive years.
  • A revocation of your driver's license for 185 days.
  • An ignition interlock device inside your vehicle for six months.

Alternative Sentencing Options for a First Time DUI

Depending on the facts surrounding your case, your lawyer may convince the judge not to sentence you to a jail term. In that case, the judge may impose alternative sentences, such as the following:

  • Ordering you to attend a drug diversion program.
  • A misdemeanor probation term for up to one year.
  • House arrest.
  • A court order for community service.

Most lawyers are unaware of these alternative sentencing options. This is why you should only hire an attorney who has proven experience handling DUI cases.

Defending a First-Offense DUI Charge

You can utilize various legal defenses to challenge the prosecution's evidence and potentially mitigate or reduce charges. Ensure you speak to an experienced DUI lawyer who can evaluate your case’s specific circumstances and determine the most effective legal defenses to pursue.

Each case is unique, and the best defense strategy depends on the facts and evidence involved. Some common defenses include the following:

Improper Stop or Arrest

Challenging an improper stop or arrest is a common DUI defense strategy in Nevada. Nevada traffic laws require law enforcement officers to have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop a vehicle. If there was no such reasonable suspicion or probable cause, any evidence obtained at the stop can be suppressed since it was obtained illegally.

In that case, your lawyer can file a motion to have this evidence excluded. If successful, this will weaken the prosecution's case, and your charges will be dismissed.

Inaccurate Field Sobriety Test Results

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are subjective assessments of a driver's physical and cognitive abilities. Law enforcement officers typically conduct them during a traffic stop to determine impairment.

Nevada police officers usually use the following three types of field sobriety tests to determine impairment:

  • The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test — The HGN test involves the officer observing the driver's eyes as they follow a stimulus, typically a pen or flashlight, moving horizontally. Nystagmus, an involuntary jerking of the eyes, becomes more pronounced when the person is intoxicated. The officer looks for the onset of nystagmus, its angle of onset, and whether it occurs at maximum deviation.
  • Walk and Turn (WAT) test — In a WAT test, the driver will be required to walk heel to toe for a certain number of steps, turn around as instructed, and walk back in the same manner. The officer evaluates the driver's ability to maintain balance, follow instructions, and perform the test without stumbling or losing their balance.
  • One Leg Stand (OLS) test — During the OLS test, the driver is instructed to stand using one leg while keeping the other leg raised six inches above the ground. The driver must maintain this position while counting aloud for a specified duration, usually around 30 seconds. The officer assesses the driver's ability to balance, keep their foot raised, and count accurately without swaying or using their arms for balance.

Field sobriety tests rely on the police officer's judgment and interpretation of the defendant's performance. They are, therefore, inherently subjective. Factors such as bias, fatigue, and lack of training can influence the law enforcement officer's assessment and lead to inaccurate conclusions about your level of impairment.

Additionally, certain physical or medical conditions, such as injuries or disabilities, can affect your ability to perform the field sobriety tests accurately. Your attorney may present medical records or expert testimony to demonstrate how these conditions could have impacted your performance.

Furthermore, environmental conditions at the time of the tests, such as uneven terrain, poor lighting, adverse weather conditions, or distracting traffic, can affect your ability to perform the tests and lead to inaccurate results. In that case, your lawyer may argue that these factors compromised the validity of the tests.

Faulty Breath or Blood Tests

Breathalyzer and blood tests are used to measure a driver's BAC and provide evidence of impairment. However, these tests are not infallible and can produce inaccurate results.

Breathalyzer machines must be regularly calibrated and maintained to ensure accurate readings. Failure to properly calibrate or maintain the equipment can lead to inaccurate results. Your defense lawyer may request records of calibration and maintenance procedures to identify any discrepancies or irregularities.

Additionally, breathalyzer tests must be administered by trained and certified operators and according to standardized procedures. Any deviation from these procedures, such as failure to observe the defendant for at least ten minutes before the breath test, can compromise the validity of the test results.

Blood tests must be collected and handled according to strict protocols to prevent contamination of the sample. If there are issues with the collection, storage, or handling of the blood sample, the defense may argue that the results are unreliable.

Additionally, maintaining the integrity of the blood sample throughout the chain of custody is important to ensuring the reliability of the test results. Any breaks or discrepancies in the chain of custody could raise doubts about the authenticity of the sample and the accuracy of the test results.

Rising Blood Alcohol

Your lawyer can use the defense of rising blood alcohol to challenge the accuracy of breathalyzer or blood test results. Here, your lawyer will assert that your BAC was below the prescribed limit at the time of driving but rose to an illegal level by the time the chemical test was administered.

Alcohol absorption and elimination in the body are processes that can lead to fluctuations in BAC over time. After consuming alcohol, it takes time for the alcohol to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

During this absorption phase, the BAC may rise steadily. Conversely, after ceasing alcohol consumption, the body begins to metabolize and eliminate alcohol, causing the BAC to decrease.

In many DUI cases, there is a significant delay between the time of driving and the time when the chemical test is administered. This delay can range from minutes to hours, during which the defendant's BAC may continue to rise, peak, and begin to decrease.

To apply this defense successfully, your attorney may rely on expert testimony from forensic toxicologists or pharmacologists. These experts will explain the physiological processes of alcohol absorption and elimination and how they can impact BAC levels over time.

Sometimes, the prosecutor may rely on the retrograde extrapolation method to estimate your BAC at the time of driving based on the results of a chemical test administered later. In that case, your defense attorney may challenge its validity by presenting evidence that contradicts the assumptions and calculations underlying it.

Find a Las Vegas DUI Defense Lawyer Near Me

If you have been charged with a first-time DUI, hire an experienced DUI lawyer who can assist you in building a solid defense strategy. At The Law Offices of Martin Hart, we specialize in DUI defense.

We are willing to provide the support you need during this challenging time. Our team of DUI defense lawyers in Las Vegas is here to review the details of your case, explore all available defenses, and work tirelessly to achieve the best possible outcome. Contact us at 702-380-4278 to speak to one of our attorneys.