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Exploring the Nevada “Felony DUI Court” (Serious Offenders Program)

A Felony DUI court, often called the “Serious Offender Program,” provides third-time DUI offenders in Nevada the option to finish an extensive course consisting of counseling, treatment, and house arrest instead of jail time and a felony conviction. Along with completion of the program in the time the court ordered, an offender must complete 6 months of house arrest along with 3 to 5 years of;

  • Counseling in substance abuse
  • Testing for alcohol and drugs (this includes SCRAM anklets)
  • A breath interlock device
  • Any other terms deemed appropriate by the judge

Once the defendant completes this program successfully, they receive a second conviction of DUI. This is merely a misdemeanor and is much more acceptable than a felony DUI conviction, which could eventually result in 1-6 years spent in Nevada State Prison.

1.   What is the Felony DUI Court and How Can it Benefit Me?

The Felony DUI Court aims to avoid sentencing an offender to incarceration by focusing on rehabilitation for substance abuse. Their sentence provides defendants with a second chance through treatment and counseling.

Oftentimes, rehabilitation is hard to achieve after incarceration. The Serious Offenders Program is a great alternative for DUI defendants looking to avoid prison, even after the D.A. refuses to plea bargain.

However, it is important to note that the program is intense and demanding, often lasting 3-5 years. Defendants should explore alternatives, such as charge reduction or dismissal, before opting for this program.

2.   Am I a Good Candidate for the Felony DUI Court?

 To be eligible for the Serious Offenders Program, an offender must meet the following criteria:

  • The offender is diagnosed with alcohol or substance abuse disorder by a licensed medical professional
  • The offender has been charged with their third DUI offense
  • None of the DUI offenses resulted in substantial injury or death

NOTE: DUI charges that were reduced or dismissed in the past do not count towards the “third DUI offense” mentioned above

Example Scenario:

Jane has been arrested for DUI. Her driving history reveals three DUI arrests in the past seven years. However, one of those arrests was reduced to reckless driving. This means she only has two previous DUI convictions in the past seven years, and since this is her third charge, she can apply for the Felony DUI Court program.

For Jane, the reduced sentence to reckless driving was important because if she had been convicted of a DUI, three DUI convictions in seven years would have made her ineligible for the Serious Offenders Program.

3.   Is the Serious Offenders Program Hard to Complete?

 Felony DUI Court cannot last more than 5 years. However, defendants do need to participate in the program for at least 3 years. The duration is determined by a case manager who recommends an appropriate treatment length to the court and other terms. The program may consist of completing requirements such as:

Status Check MeetingsThe offender will start off with weekly meetings with the judge. A reduction in the frequency depends on the offender’s progress as they move through the program. In Clark County, the Serious Offenders Program meetings occur on Thursdays.
House ArrestDefendants are often confined to their homes for the program’s first six months. They may leave for work or to fulfill their DUI court requirements.   Defendants might also be required to wear a SCRAM device that monitors their alcohol intake.
Interlock DeviceA Breath Ignition Interlock Device is often installed in the defendant’s car for the first year. This device analyzes the defendant’s breath for blood alcohol content of 0.02 or above. The car will not start if the driver is at or above this limit.
CounselingGroup and individual counseling are required (ex. Alcoholics Anonymous), twice a week at first and then reduced to once a week as the offender progresses.
Drug/Alcohol TestingThe defendant may be subjected to regular testing for alcohol levels in the blood.
Other TermsIn extreme cases, the judge may add more terms to the program. This includes suspending the defendant’s driver’s license and adding a curfew.

Upon completing all the terms of the Serious Offenders Program, felony DUI charges are reduced to misdemeanor second-time DUI convictions. This is a cause for celebration, even for the judges, who are known to throw mini-ceremonies and appreciate the efforts of the graduates. For example, at one ceremony in the past, a judge allowed a struggling candidate to smash a cake in his face upon completion of the program!

Unfortunately, defendants who are unable to complete this program get a third-time DUI conviction, which is considered a felony. Further details are provided in the fifth question below.

4.   What is the Procedure for Applying, and What Happens if I Relapse?

The application for the Serious Offenders Program involves four easy steps:

  1. After receiving a DUI third in District Court, the defendant must plead guilty (nolo contendere). The attorney can then submit an application and substance abuse evaluation to the Felony DUI Court on the defendant’s behalf. A certified counselor or physician must conduct the evaluation to prove that the defendant has a substance abuse problem.
  2. Once the application is submitted, a defendant is required to meet with the Nevada Division of Parole and Probation, where they will receive a Presentence Investigation Report for their case. This report explains if the court deems the defendant suitable for DUI Court. The prosecutor can contest this application within ten days or when they receive notice of it. Moreover, the judge can also request a hearing if they deem the defendant unsuitable for the program.
  3. Once the application is granted, the prison sentence is suspended, and the case is transferred to DUI Court. Eventually, the defendant reports to Pretrial Services and receives further instructions on starting the DUI Court program.
  4. If the application is rejected, the Nevada felony DUI penalties will apply. It is crucial to have a highly experienced attorney guide you through this process to ensure the application is timely and accurate. It may be the difference between acceptance to DUI court or a DUI felony conviction.

What Happens if I Break the Rules of the Program?

Mistakes are all dealt with on a case-by-case basis and depend on the judge. A judge may consider the defendant’s criminal history, how long they participated in the program, and circumstances around why the rules were broken.

Mistakes and broken rules don’t always lead to expulsion from the program. For example, a defendant who relapsed might be pushed back to the first phase of the program, sent to prison for two weeks, or be subjected to further restrictions that include adding alcohol breath-testing devices to the home along with cameras that affect their privacy. 

Most judges would allow the program participants at least one chance before they are removed from the program. However, another DUI can lead to much more severe repercussions. This includes the original felony sentence and subsequent imprisonment.

5.   What Happens if I am Unable to Finish the Program?

Expulsion from the program takes the participant back to their original felony sentence, which includes:

  • Fines between $2,000 to $5,000
  • 1-6 years in Nevada State Prison
  • Attending a Victim Impact Panel
  • Alcohol or drug-dependency evaluation
  • An ignition interlock device installed in the defendant’s car for 1-3 years
  • Driver’s license revocation for up to 3 years
  • Restriction from Participation in DUI Court

6.   How Much Does Felony DUI Court Cost?

The Felony DUI Court, or the Serious Offenders Program, would usually cost around $11,000 to $15,000 throughout the duration of the program. This includes the evaluation fee (one time), counseling fees, breath ignition devices, electronic monitoring, and supervision fees. However, some participants can receive a lower fee through a sliding fee scale.

7.   Can I Apply with My First or Second DUI?

This program only caters to those Nevada defendants who have been charged with their third DUI in the last seven years. People charged with a first or second DUI can receive eligibility at Misdemeanor DUI Court, also called the Moderate Offenders Program in Clark County.

For this program, the requirements may be similar. They include 90 days of house arrest, a SCRAM anklet, individual counseling, and regular unannounced checks. Completing the program allows the defendant to receive a less serious offense, the specific terms of which depend on their plea bargain.

8.   Can I Apply if I Do Not Live in Nevada?

All DUI programs eventually receive approval from the judge. A flexible judge and prosecutor may allow you to do a similar program in your state. However, each case is unique.

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Looking for a criminal defense attorney to help you deal with a felony arrest in Nevada? Our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers can use their skills to negotiate with the prosecution. This can help you receive a reduced sentence or allow your DUI to be dismissed.

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