Criminal Process in Nevada: What Happens When a Criminal Complaint Is Filed Against You
The constitution says that we have the right to a speedy trial if accused in a criminal prosecution according to the 6th Amendment.
However, on the contrary, most criminal cases can be long drawn out processes even if the criminal charge is minor.
There are many procedures that the lawyers on both sides must process before the case can be resolved. In some cases, these delays can benefit one side or the other.
Court dates are often set and rescheduled over many months, even years due to delays from filing the complaint to motions filed with the court or gathering witnesses to testify. The courts for this reason are continuously bogged down with cases that seem to go nowhere fast.
If you have been charged with a crime, the criminal court process has a set of steps that must be filed and completed to even be charged with a crime. That’s why hiring a defense lawyer right away is so important. Your defense attorney can walk through the legal steps needed to charge and convict a person of a crime and may find something that the prosecution didn’t do that could get your case dismissed in some cases.
The Defenders is a group of experienced criminal defense lawyers in Nevada who can help you navigate the complicated criminal process. We have a team of experienced trial attorneys who are devoted to getting you the best outcome possible. Hiring us will give you peace of mind that your case is being handled by someone with experience and knowledge about the law and how it applies to your situation.
As mentioned above, there are multiple steps in the criminal process. They are specific and involve legal steps that need to be followed known as the criminal process.
Step 1: Information and Indictments
When a defendant is suspected of a crime the police will conduct a pre-file investigation.
A pre-file investigation will look into a suspected crime to determine if enough evidence exists to arrest and charge the defendant with the crime.
In Nevada, there are two ways to proceed once the police conclude their pre-file investigation. The police give the information to the District Attorney’s office which will then decide what way to proceed and even if there is enough evidence to continue with charges.
- A sworn statement to the court called “information“ that charges someone with a crime is submitted to the court. If a judge rules that there is in fact probable cause that the suspect committed the crime they are charged with, the court will issue a arrest warrant unless the suspect is already in custody.
- The second way to be charged with a crime is for the district attorney to present evidence to a grand jury. A grand jury is chosen the same way as a regular jury and hears the evidence just like a trial. Sometimes grand juries are held in secret to protect witnesses and jurors. If the grand jury returns and says there’s enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, the prosecutors then present the court with an indictment. An indictment to the court is the same as “information” to the court.
Grand Juries are rarely used except in very serious or high-profile cases.
There is also a statute of limitations on most crimes for the defendant to be charged.
However, a few crimes like murder have no statute of limitations.
Once the case information or indictment is filed, the court will issue an arrest warrant if the person is not in custody.
Step 2: Arrests
Arrests aren’t always carried out with arrest warrants. If the police have probable cause to believe a person committed a crime, they may arrest that person.
In other cases, arrest warrants are handed down by a judge following an investigation into the suspect’s criminal activity.
The third option is an arrest right after the suspected criminal activity without a warrant.
After the arrest, the police have the right to search a person for drugs, weapons, and other paraphernalia. The police must read the arrestee their Miranda Rights before they can question a suspect about the alleged crime. Failing to have the Miranda Rights read can sometimes lead to a case being dismissed.
After the initial arrest, the defendant will be taken to jail for the booking process.
During the booking process, the suspect will be fingerprinted, have mug shots taken, and searched again before being placed in a holding cell pending a court hearing on the charges and bail.
Step 3: Citations and Summons In Nevada
Some criminal charges don’t rise to the occasion of an arrest and are processed through the jail system. Traffic violations, for example, fall under this category. Minor criminal charges are often met with a citation or a summons instead of an arrest.
The citation or summons will have a date to appear in court to answer for the charges.
In some cases, the suspect will do a walk-through jail where they are processed and released on the same day.
Step 4: Bail
Bail is a financial guarantee that the suspect will appear for all court appearances and follow the court’s orders. Bail money will be returned once the criminal case ends even if the person is convicted.
Courts have bail schedules that coincide with the crime.
The more severe the crime, the higher the bail amount. For lesser crimes a person may be released without bail or on their “own recognizance” and for more serious crimes like murder the defendant may be held without bail until the completion of the trial.
The court will accept cash bail or by bond. Bondsmen charge a 15% fee of the total bond that is nonrefundable even after the case is closed.
If you can’t post bond, you are entitled to a hearing after 48 hours in jail and again at 72 hours. At 72 hours, the District Attorney (DA) brings formal charges and the defendant can ask for the bail to be reduced.
Step 5: Arraignment
The initial court appearance after an arrest is usually the arraignment. These take place at the Nevada justice court or a municipal court.
The prosecution will present the charges against the defendant or the complaint of the alleged crime.
The defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. Even if the defendant is taking a plea, most of the time the defendant enters a plea of not guilty to move the process forward.
After the arraignment, the court will set another date for trial or a preliminary hearing. If the case is long, a status check date might be set to give both sides a chance to settle the case without a trial.
You might have heard about this in the last few months when former president Donald Trump was arraigned in court and made a plea.
Step 6: Pretrial Conferences
The pretrial phase begins after the arraignment and includes discovery, where the DA gives the defense all the evidence against the defendant.
The DA and defense will have pre-trial conferences where they will discuss plea bargains.
The defendant may accept a plea bargain with a reduced charge or sentence to avoid a trial.
A judge must accept the plea bargain reached and the case will go to the sentencing phase. A judge does not have to accept the plea bargain but they usually do.
Step 7: Preliminary Hearings
Preliminary hearings are only for felony charges and are like mini-trials to help the judge decide if there is enough evidence for the case to end up in district court, the court that handles felony trials.
Defendants often lose in preliminary hearings but they are useful because they give the defense a glimpse of the DA’s case.
During a preliminary hearing, a judge can dismiss the charges or allow the case to be “bound over” for trial.
The prosecutor can also dismiss the charges or amend the charges at this time.
Step 8: Trials and Verdicts
The trial is what most of us see on television.
This, however, only takes place if the case is not resolved by having the case dismissed or a plea bargain.
Prior to the trial, each side will file various motions such as a motion to suppress evidence. Each side can also subpoena witnesses to appear in court.
Even after the trial begins, both sides can agree to a plea offer.
Everyone charged with a crime in Nevada is entitled to a bench trial, where a judge decides the verdict. Jury trials are only available only to defendants facing more than 6 months in jail.
Trials include witness testimony and the introduction of evidence on both sides.
Defendants do not have to take the stand in their defense because it is up to the prosecutor to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the defendant can also take the stand and present their own evidence, known as an affirmative defense.
After each side has presented their case, the jury or judge will render a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
If a defendant is found to be guilty, they enter the sentencing phase.
Step 9: Sentencing
In minor cases like misdemeanors, the sentencing may take place at the time the verdict is delivered.
For more serious crimes, a separate sentencing hearing will take place at a future date for both sides to prepare.
A sentencing hearing is just like a mini-trial but guilt or innocence is not the factor but the length of the sentence.
Both sides can present witnesses and evidence to support their case.
In felony cases, the Nevada Department of Parole will be able to give a sentencing recommendation.
The judge will then give the sentence that can include:
- Prison time
- A suspended sentence
- Rehabilitation programs
- Community service
- Other court-imposed penalties
Misdemeanor crimes carry a maximum of up to 6 months in jail, while gross misdemeanors carry a maximum of 1 year in jail. Felonies can carry anywhere from one year in jail to life in prison or even the death penalty depending on the crime.
Felony convictions can also carry other consequences such as:
- Registering as a sex offender
- Losing the right to have a gun
- Losing the right to vote
- Parole for several years after your prison term is ended
A judge can also impose sentences to run concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (one after the other) if a person is convicted of more than one charge.
Step 10: Record Sealing
Depending on the sentence given, defendants may be eligible to have their records sealed. Again, this is a complicated process and a Nevada criminal defense lawyer should be consulted.
In general, the records can be sealed if the person meets certain conditions such as completing probation or paying all fines and restitution.
There is a waiting period depending on the crime and the record sealing process can take up to several months. The defendant must fill out the necessary forms and provide evidence of rehabilitation.
Once a record is sealed it will be like the crime never happened and employers won’t be able to see it on background checks. The person can answer “no” to questions about prior criminal convictions.
It is important to note that even if a record is sealed, certain employers, such as those in the healthcare or law enforcement fields will still be able to see the information on their background checks.
Facing a Crime?
As you can see the criminal legal process is long and involves many steps to be taken.
One misstep could cost you freedom and affect the rest of your life.
You need a defense team with trial expertise on your side to fight the charges against you.
Call The Defenders today if you have been charged with a crime in Nevada.
The Defenders can help you navigate the criminal justice system and ensure that your rights are protected every step of the way. We will fight to get you the best possible outcome and work tirelessly in your defense.
When you don’t have an attorney representing you, there are a number of things that could go wrong.
- Will aggressively put in all efforts to get the penalties lowered.
- Can help you achieve fair settlements or plea deals.
- Can protect you from the prosecution.
- Can examine the evidence better than you.
- Will fight for your rights to help keep your criminal history clean.
If you’re in criminal trouble in Nevada, welcome to the law firm that can help.
The Defenders is a criminal defense law firm whose lawyers defend clients arrested or charged with DUIs, felonies, misdemeanors, domestic violence, sex crimes, murder, drug possession, white collar crimes and more than a dozen other criminal case categories.