If you or a loved one were arrested in Nevada, this might be your first brush with the law, and you might not know what to expect through the criminal justice process. Facing these unknowns can make an already frightening experience even scarier.
At the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Stover, we are here to make bad situations better for the people we serve. As such, our team has put together a brief overview of Nevada's criminal justice process to relieve some of your worries and stresses. Of course, this review cannot cover every nuance of the system, but we hope it gives you an idea of what to expect.
The criminal justice process can get started in several different ways. One way is if law enforcement officials may suspect that you have been involved in criminal activity. Therefore, they will begin an investigation. Officers will be looking for evidence that the alleged crime has been committed and you were the one who committed it.
If law enforcement officials are convinced that you were the one involved, they will request an arrest warrant from a judge. The judge will review the evidence to determine whether probable cause exists to arrest you. If they find that there is, the warrant will be issued.
The warrant will include your name and the alleged offense, among other pieces of information. It gives the police the authority to take you into custody at any time.
Another way that the Nevada criminal justice process may begin is by a warrantless arrest. This occurs when an officer either witnesses you committing or attempting to commit a crime, or has probable cause to believe that you did such.
A criminal case may also begin through the issuance of a citation or summons. If you commit a minor offense, the officer will hand you a citation. The citation will contain a date and time for you to appear in court. Thus, you will not be taken into custody immediately.
Similar to a citation is a summons. It is issued in lieu of an arrest for minor crimes and directs you to appear in court. The summons is sent to you by the court, rather than handed to you by an officer.
The Booking Process
After you have been arrested, you will be booked. Essentially, this means that your information will be logged in the law enforcement agency's system. Your personal identifying details, fingerprints, photo, and the alleged offense will all be recorded. If you were issued a summons, you might have to go through the booking process before appearing in court.
Law enforcement officials are tasked with gathering evidence that the prosecutor can use to build a case against you. As such, one of the things they will do to get enough support backing the claim that you allegedly committed a crime is to question you.
The interrogation can be an intimidating process, as law enforcement officials may use almost any tactic they deem necessary to get information out of you (so long as the technique is lawful). For instance, they might lie or act like your friend to get you to trust them and divulge information.
Know that you are not required to answer any of the officer's questions. In fact, after you have been lawfully arrested and before officers can start questioning you, they must read you the Miranda rights, which state that you have the right to remain silent and anything you say or do can be used against you in court.
If you have been taken into custody, within 72 hours of your arrest, you must be brought before a judge at an arraignment. The arraignment is your initial appearance in court. It is where the judge will inform you of the charges against you and may ask you to enter a plea.
During the arraignment, the judge may also set bail. Bail is money you pay to get out of jail after an arrest. It prevents you from having to wait behind bars while your case is pending. Essentially, it serves as an assurance that you will appear in court as required. After your case, bail money will be returned to you.
Bail may be set for most crimes except first-degree murder. The bail amount will either be based on a pre-set schedule or the judge's determination. Depending on the severity of the alleged offense, the judge may allow you to be released on your own recognizance (meaning you do not have to pay to get out of jail), or they might not allow you to post bail.
The Preliminary Hearing
If you have been charged with a gross misdemeanor or felony, you will be scheduled for a preliminary hearing that takes place in a justice court. During the hearing, a judge will decide if the officer had probable cause to arrest you.
At the preliminary hearing, evidence may be presented to support the claim that you were the one who committed the alleged offense. You have the right to cross-examine witnesses and challenge the evidence.
If the judge determines that there was no probable cause, your case should be dismissed. However, if they believe probable cause exists, your case will be sent to a district court.
The Plea Bargain
At any time during the Nevada justice process, your criminal defense attorney may enter negotiations with the prosecutor to attempt to resolve your case outside of the courtroom. Referred to as a plea bargain, a deal made with the prosecutor may require that you plead guilty to the alleged offense in exchange for lesser charges or a reduced sentence.
Your lawyer will present to you any deal made and discuss the pros and cons of accepting. Your acceptance must be voluntary and knowing. Also, the court has the final say on whether your case may be resolved through that deal.
If you pleaded not guilty at your arraignment and your case was not settled through a plea bargain, you will be set for trial. At trial, the prosecutor will attempt to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt by presenting various pieces of evidence. Your attorney may challenge the accusation by bringing in their own evidence or witnesses.
If you were charged with a misdemeanor, you will be subject to a bench trial in a justice or municipal court. Having a bench trial means that the case will be heard and determined only by a judge. No jury will be involved.
If you were accused of a gross misdemeanor or felony, you may have a jury trial in district court. You can waive your right to a jury trial, but the judge and prosecutor must agree.
If you are found guilty or pleaded guilty, you will be set for sentencing. During this phase of the criminal process, the judge will determine what sentence to impose. For minor crimes, sentencing may take place immediately. With more serious offenses, it can be scheduled for weeks out.
Both sides can present evidence during sentencing to attempt to affect the sentencing decision. The prosecutor might raise aggravating factors to argue for a greater sentence. Your attorney, on the other hand, may raise mitigating factors to seek a lesser sentence.
Below are a few potential penalties for misdemeanors and felonies:
- Category A felony
- Death or life imprisonment
- Category B felony
- 1 to 20 years of imprisonment
- Category C felony
- 1 to 5 years of imprisonment
- Up to $10,000 in fines
- Category D felony
- 1 to 4 years of imprisonment
- Up to $5,000 in fines
- Category E felony
- 1 to 4 years of imprisonment
- Prison sentence suspended for a term of probation
- Up to $5,000 in fines
- Gross misdemeanor
- Up to 364 days in jail
- Up to $2,000 in fines
- Up to 6 months in jail
- UP to $1,000 in fines
Note that sanctions other than those above may be imposed upon a conviction. For instance, the judge may sentence you to probation or order you to pay victim restitution. Also, if you are convicted of a sex crime, you may be required to register as a sex offender, or if convicted of a DUI, your driver's license may be suspended. Thus, the range of penalties you may face will vary depending on your situation.
If you are convicted, that might not mean your case is completely over. You may be able to appeal the decision.
When you appeal your conviction, you are challenging the judgment. You may argue that the guilty verdict or the sentence was unwarranted.
An appeal must be based on a legal error that substantially affected the outcome of your case. In other words, you cannot pursue this route just because you are unhappy with the decision.
You must have legal grounds to appeal, such as:
- Insufficient evidence
- Improper admission or exclusion of evidence
- Prosecutorial misconduct
- Juror misconduct
- Ineffective assistance of counsel
- Misapplication of the law
When you file an appeal, an appellate court will review the trial court record. The appellate judges will not consider any new evidence. They are only trying to determine whether a legal error affected your case.
If your appeal is successful, the judgment may be overturned, and you may be granted a new case.
Unfortunately, if you are convicted of a crime, that information will remain on your criminal record. Fortunately, Nevada law allows for record sealing.
As the name implies, record sealing covers up your criminal record, preventing access to details concerning your arrest or conviction.
Only certain crimes can be sealed. Offenses such as sex crimes or felony DUIs cannot be covered. Additionally, you must wait a certain number of years after you have completed your sentence to petition for record sealing.
Retain Legal Representation
Nevada's criminal process can be long and confusing. At the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Stover, our Reno lawyer is here to help you every step of the way. We have over 25 years of experience and served as special prosecutor and deputy district attorney. Thus, we know the law inside and out.
Schedule a free consultation by calling us at (775) 502-1575 or contacting us onlinetoday.