This article has been written by Sohini Goswami pursuing the Diploma in Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Laws from LawSikho. This article has been edited by Smriti Katiyar (Associate, Lawsikho). 

Introduction

One of the most common reasons for road accidents is the irresponsible behavior of the driver such as driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor. Witnessing the rise of such accidents, some state authorities formulated strict laws for the prevention of the same. The Nevada Legislature is said to have one of the most well-established systems for prevention and control of driving under the influence (DUI) cases. In this paper, emphasis is laid on the DUI laws in Nevada, its background, the penalties associated with them, and the amendments that have shaped the course of what the law stands for in today’s age and time.

Background

In 1923, the Nevada Legislature, through a Bill, enacted the first law that dealt with incidents of driving under the influence. It was Senate Bill 5 that further defined the objective of enacting the bill, by establishing that, it was unlawful “for any person, or persons, while either intoxicated or under the influence of intoxicating liquor, to drive or conduct any vehicle upon any street or highway in this State.

Presumptions of intoxication

After establishing the law for driving under influence, the specifics of what was possibly considered as intoxicated behavior or what was the legal definition for an intoxicated person remained obscure for more than 30 years.  However, after a long haul, in 1957, the Nevada State Assembly Bill 267, established statutory presumptions about what could be the general standard of alcohol in blood for an individual to be considered intoxicated. It was finally decided after several discussions, that Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of more than 0.10 was illegal and eligible  for arrest and prosecution.

Illegal Per Se

For the longest time, the drinking under influence law in Nevada was governed on presumptions. It was presumed that a person having Blood Alcohol Content over the specified level could have a chance of rebuttal in court whereas those with BAC of the specified level or more constituted an offense in itself. Though such an approach made the law uncertain for the masses, it could be argued that it deterred drinking and driving leaving room for arrest, followed by prosecution.

Lowering the per se limit to 0.08

Even after lowering the limit to 0.08, the number of accidents kept on increasing thereby compelling the legislature to consider the BAC level of 0.8 or more as punishable.

Subsequent offenses defined

The term which would leave to consideration of subsequent charges have been amended a couple of times. Initially, it was within 3 years between the initial offense and the next offense, then it was 5 years within the same and finally, it was what we consider today, a 7 years period within the initial offense and the next offense.

Penalties

Under the DUI laws in Nevada, penalties could be broadly classified under two heads:

I. Administrative- Under this, dissent to a blood, urine, or breath test asked by a police officer could result in the revocation of the driver’s license for at least a period of one year. In the instance of a police officer, having a warrant or court order, a blood test could be drawn out involuntarily, leaving the accused with no remedy.

II. Criminal- The penalties for a first-time DUI offender is mildly less harsh than those for a subsequent offender. However, a third DUI offense within a period of 7 years that results in death or severe bodily damage is to be considered a felony offense. Typically, the penalty for a first-time offender would be-

  1. Arrest, including
  • vehicle impounded, 
  • two days to six months in jail or community service, 
  • fine starting from $400 to $1000, 
  • chemical test fee $600, 
  • one year of DUI School or Substance Abuse Treatment, 
  • Victim Impact Panel
  1. Driver’s license, including
  • Ignition interlock in vehicle or license revocation,
  • $121 reinstatement fee,
  • $35 Victims Compensation Civil penalty,
  • $42.25 Driver license fee + testing fee $26,
  • DMV tests- vision, knowledge, possibly skills,
  • SR-22 Certificate of liability insurance required for three years.

Though revocation of a driver’s license is considered an administrative penalty, yet if a revocation is not reinstated, the record marks it under a criminal offense and hinders the driving privilege of that individual in any State within the jurisdiction of the United States.

Recent trends witnessed in the law

In recent times, there have been multiple discussions about marijuana overhauling the DUI guidelines in the state of Nevada. On March 30th, 2021, Assembly Bill 400 was introduced that suggested removing the law-specific per se limits for cannabis metabolites that can be found in a person’s blood even long after consumption that could interest a DUI. 

While people advocating cannabis consumption were in favor of the law and upheld the argument that the current law does not provide a just threshold for how impaired a person is due to the distinguished effect that cannabis has on the human body as compared to alcohol. This roots from the fact that the current law derives its roots from a time when the amount of cannabis consumption was illegal and no device was invented to gauge the same.

However, other attorneys have argued that it would be wrong for the victims as well as the families of the victims of a DUI case to be denied justice due to lacuna in the law and the ambiguous nature of the provisions concerning impairment due to cannabis consumption. 

Case laws

On September 13th, 2021, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that murder charges cannot be brought forward in deadly DUI cases.  Chief Justice Katrina Piercing and the six other judges while hearing the case of Ronald Leavell who was appealing for the second-degree murder charge of a 2017 fatal crash, opined that,

 “Although malice may be inferred from the facts of this case, which would support a charge of second-degree murder, the Legislature has preempted such a charge for cases of non-intentional vehicular homicide… the state may not charge a defendant with second-degree murder for a death resulting from driving under the influence.”

While it could be understood that the judges were simply inferring what the law states without diluting a power that was expressly laid down under a different legislature, there is no denying that the lack of an expressed proviso in this regard did not aid the process of guaranteeing justice to the victims and their families.

Conclusion

Since the inception of the DUI law, to stand the test of time there have been several amendments, yet it is imperative to note here that for the law to serve its purpose completely, certain areas of the law need to be expressed more distinctly. The DUI law in Nevada is one of the harshest laws of the United States and hence it can be postulated that the Legislature will make just adjustments to be relevant in the recent circumstances or will make way to accommodate the required changes through a new law.


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