Nevada Supreme Court establishes right to jury trial for Misdemeanor Domestic Violence

In a reversal of its 2014 ruling on the matter, the Supreme Court of Nevada (SCONV) ruled unanimously on September 12, 2019, that individuals charged with 1st and 2nd domestic violence trials - the defendersoffense Battery which constitutes Domestic Violence (BDV) both misdemeanors, now have the right to a jury trial to hear the case.  As misdemeanors these cases are heard by municipal and justice courts who have jurisdiction in these matters.  This change will present challenges to these local courts who currently are not set up to empanel juries.

Why the change?

The eight-page decision of the SCONV, in Andersen v Eight Judicial District Court of State, has to do with whether misdemeanor BDV is considered a “petty” or “serious” matter.  In their 2014 decision, titled Amezcua v. Eighth Judicial District Court of State, the SCONV found that misdemeanor BDV was a petty matter, since the maximum sentence for the offense was less than 6 months in jail, consistent with U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) rulings.  Petty offenses have been long established by SCOTUS to be excluded from the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of a jury trial, found in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In the 2014 Amezcua decision, SCONV considered the additional penalties of 120 hours of community service, and a fine of not more than $1,000 and still found BDV to be a petty matter.  Since that ruling, the 2015 Nevada legislature added to Nevada state law the additional requirement that those convicted of misdemeanor BDV may not own or possess a firearm.   With this additional penalty SCONV finds now that misdemeanor BDV may no longer be considered a petty matter, but a serious matter, to which the right to a jury trial attaches.

Reaction to the decision

The decision of the Nevada high court has elicited responses from Domestic Violence victim advocacy groups as well as from the Nevada Attorney General and local District Attorneys.  Nevada AG Aaron Ford initially called the decision “devastating,” noting that it would have a chilling effect on DV victims reporting incidents.  He later stated that he understands why the court ruled as it did from a constitutional rights perspective, and that it would require additional judicial resources, such as access to victim advocates, additional prosecutors, additional laypersons to serve as Justices of the Peace, etc.  He concluded, “…the sad fact remains – domestic violence victims are at risk.”

SafeNest CEO Liz Ortenburger released a statement saying the ruling “clearly puts a batterer’s rights above those of the victim.  Delaying trials to meet a jury mandate will only serve to stall the judicial process by perpetuating the power and control dynamic of the abuser and forcing victims to live in a continued state of fear.”

Steve Wolfson, Clark County District Attorney, after reviewing some of the logistical challenges of implementing the changes required under SCONV decision, stated “I think we’re all a little concerned about the effect on all of us including victims.”

Clark County Public Defender, Darin Imlay, said his office is currently requesting jury trials for all misdemeanor BDV cases with the first case to go to trial within the next 60 days.  He responded, “I think they’re overstating the case. I don’t think anybody’s going to now go out and commit a domestic violence charge…” because they now get the option of a jury trial.

The Defenders represents those charged with Domestic Violence

The lawyers of The Defenders know the changes to the laws whether due to legislation or evolving case law and will be in a position to provide the strongest and most aggressive defense if you are charged with BDV.  While domestic violence continues to be a problem in Nevada and Clark County in particular, not all charges are valid.  Being charged with a crime in not the same as being guilty of a crime.  The prosecution must prove their charges “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which places the burden on them.  Our lawyers know this area of criminal law and are in a position to provide the greatest possible defense of your rights.  Call our office today to discuss your case at (702) 333-3333.

Learn More:

Andersen v. Eighth Judicial District Court of State

NRS 200.485 paragraph 10

Amezcua, 130 Nev. at 50, 319 P.3d at 605

U.S. Constitution -6th Amendment: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

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