The Nevada Supreme Court recently addressed whether DV charges are now serious enough to warrant a jury trial for defendants.
The Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled in favor of granting a jury trial to defendants facing these criminal charges, according to the Nevada Independent.
The underlying case involved a petitioner named Christopher Anderson. He appealed charges of battery offense constituting domestic violence on the grounds that he was improperly denied the right to a jury trial. The Court agreed that, given the seriousness of the charges and the ramifications of a conviction, Mr. Anderson had a right to a trial by jury.
You may be surprised to learn that the right to trial by jury is not universally guaranteed. Although the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial, some states, including Nevada, did not offer defendants the ability to ask for a jury trial if they were charged with a “petty” offense.
Under Nevada law, a “petty” offense was considered an offense that carried a maximum prison sentence of no more than six months. An offense carrying additional penalties that are “so severe that they clearly reflect a legislative determination that the offense in question is a serious one” would be outside the ambit of “petty” offense.
This unanimous ruling marks a major change in state law and will enable, for the first time, defendants in Nevada charged with a misdemeanor domestic violence charge to request a trial by jury.
Allowing jury trials for misdemeanor criminal offenses is common practice in the vast majority of states. In fact, Nevada was one of only three states to prohibit jury trials for supposedly less serious offenses.
The Court’s 2019 opinion reverses an earlier 2014 opinion which held that the community service requirements associated with a domestic violence conviction was not “serious” enough to warrant a trial by jury. However, that rationale was turned on its head when state lawmakers passed a wide-ranging piece of legislation that prohibited anyone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in Nevada (or any other state) from owning or possessing a firearm.
The deprivation of an individual’s Second Amendment right to own a firearm was deemed serious enough for the court to re-visit its 2014 decision and issue a complete reversal in its 2019 opinion. Specifically, the Court stated:
“But now…our Legislature has imposed a limitation on the possession of a firearm in Nevada that automatically and directly flows from a conviction for misdemeanor domestic battery,” Stiglich wrote in the order. “In our opinion, this new penalty—a prohibition on the right to bear arms as guaranteed by both the United States and Nevada Constitutions—’clearly reflect a legislative determination that the offense is a serious one.’”
Another major ramification of the Court’s 2019 decision is the docket for state courts in Clark County and other jurisdictions in Nevada. According to public data from 2017, law enforcement officers arrested more than 30,000 people based on allegations of domestic violence offences, including more than 21,000 in Clark County. If each of those defendants asks for a jury trial, it could create a massive backlog for the court’s docket.
The impact of the Nevada Supreme Court’s decision could mean that if you are charged with allegedly committing an act of violence, you could have the ability to seek a trial by jury.