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The Associated Press reported that a 31-year-old Montana man was arrested for suspicion of drunken driving on Interstate 80 about 10 miles west of Wells on August 2. Elko County Undersheriff Clair Morris told the Elko Daily Free Press that the driver was “grossly intoxicated.”

In addition to being charged with driving under the influence (DUI) and having an open alcoholic container in a vehicle, the alleged offender was also charged with child abuse or neglect for allegedly having an unrestrained child in the car. Morris told the Free Press that there were five people in the car, and one of the passengers was a 6-year-old child in the back seat.

The Free Press reported that the alleged offender was being held on bail of $101,335, but he will presumably face significant difficulties even when he is released. Prosecutors aggressively pursue maximum penalties in DUI cases involving child passengers, and judges are frequently inclined to oblige by imposing very tough sentences.

It is important to understand that under Nevada law, transporting a person who is less than 15 years of age in the motor vehicle at the time of a DUI violation will be considered an aggravating factor in determining the sentence of the defendant. Even first-time DUI offenders are much more likely to face the maximum six-month jail sentence and $1,000 fine allowed under Nevada Revised Statute § 484C.400 in these types of cases.

In this Elko case, the alleged offender not only faces DUI charges, but also a violation of Nevada’s open container law. Under Nevada Revised Statute § 484B.150, this is a misdemeanor offense that is also punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

The aspect of this case that could really result in much stiffer penalties for the driver is the charge of child abuse or neglect. Under Nevada Revised Statute § 200.508, abuse, neglect or endangerment of child is a felony offense. This is true even if the child suffered no substantial bodily or mental harm.

Because the alleged offender in the Elko incident was driving, prosecutors will likely argue that he willfully endangered the unrestrained 6-year-old child in the back seat. That would make this a category B felony. Assuming the driver has not been previously convicted of child abuse, this would be punishable by up to six year in prison. However, a prior child abuse conviction would mean that the maximum sentence could be as much as 15 years.

Any drunk driving arrest by itself can be an overwhelming legal challenge to deal with, but the difficulties become even more substantial with these kinds of aggravating factors. It is clearly in every person’s best interest to never get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while under the influence. But that caution is increased exponentially when getting behind the wheel with a child passenger having recently consumed any amount of alcoholic beverages.

Prosecutors will be much less likely to accept the suggestion of any reduction in charges when a DUI is compounded with these kinds of additional offenses. It is critical for alleged offenders in such cases to have an experienced criminal defense attorney who can fully investigate to determine all possible police errors or other legal defenses that could possibly lead to evidence being suppressed and cases being dismissed.

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