Getting arrested can be an extremely confusing and frightening experience. In Las Vegas, even minor offences can lead to a lengthy process and the criminal trial process is unfamiliar and confusing for most people.
Here are the top 7 things you need to know about the criminal law process in Las Vegas and what to expect.
The Information And Indictment Process
When the police suspect someone has committed a crime, they will first investigate the crime and gather evidence.
Their findings are then submitted to the District Attorney (D.A.), who decides if there is sufficient evidence to press charges.
The D.A. can then provide a sworn statement or criminal complaint to the court, in which the suspect is charged with a crime.
A judge will decide if there is probable cause to continue with the process, in which case they will issue an arrest warrant for the suspect.
Alternatively, the D.A. can instead present the findings to a grand jury, but this is usually only done for very serious or high-profile cases. The grand jury is made up of a panel of citizens who only hear the evidence presented by the prosecutor.
They then decide whether they believe there is sufficient evidence to press charges, in which case they return a true bill. This then allows the D.A. to file an indictment, which will lead to the defendant being arraigned on the charges.
Arrests And Citations
When arresting someone, the police must ensure that they follow protocol and any evidence is obtained lawfully. They are also legally required to read the suspect their Miranda rights.
The suspect will then be taken to jail for booking, where they will have their fingerprints and mug-shots taken and wait in a holding cell until a judge has set bail.
For minor offenses, including traffic violations, officers may instead issue a citation, which states a date and time for the person to appear in court. This is still a criminal charge.
Criminal Law In Las Vegas Bail
In some cases, suspects may only be released from jail upon the payment of “bail” money to the court, which functions as a deposit, ensuring that the defendant will attend all required court appearances and follow the court’s orders.
Regardless of whether or not the person is convicted, they will get their bail money back once their criminal case has ended.
More serious crimes carry higher bail amounts. Depending on the severity of the crime, judges may refuse bail entirely. In other instances, such as minor crimes, suspects may be released for no bail at all on their “own recognizance in Nevada”.
The arraignment tends to be the first time that the defendant appears in court. The prosecution will present the defendant with the information on the charges against them.
The defendant will then enter a plea. If a guilty plea is entered, the case moves on to sentencing. If a not guilty plea is entered, the case will move to a trial.
During the pretrial phase, the D.A. has to provide the defense attorney with all of the evidence they intend to use against the defendant, including any evidence which may be in the defendant’s favor.
Both attorneys also argue over what evidence may be presented at the trial. If any critical evidence is thrown out, the case and charges may be dropped.
During this phase, plea bargains can also be discussed. Although a judge is not obliged to agree to a plea bargain, they usually do. In such a situation, the case moves to the sentencing stage.
Criminal Law In Las Vegas Trial
Jury trials are only available to defendants who are facing more than six months in prison, or charges of misdemeanour battery domestic violence. However, anyone who is charged with a crime in Nevada is entitled to at least a bench trial, which involves a judge instead of a jury, deciding on the verdict.
Prior to the trial, both sides will have the opportunity to question jurors during the voire dire of the jury, to determine if jurors are fit to serve. Both sides have up to four peremptory challenges (or eight in a case carrying the potential for life imprisonment or the death penalty), where they can strike a juror without the need to provide a reason.
During the trial both sides may ask the court to issue subpoenas, forcing witnesses to testify in court. The defendant is not required to take the stand during the trial.
The defense also has the right to cross-examine witnesses and introduce evidence in their defense. The burden of proof is upon the state and they must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime.
A judge will impose a sentence in the event where a defendant is either found guilty or pleads guilty to the charges. For cases involving minor crimes, the sentencing may take place immediately. However, for more serious cases, sentencing may take several weeks.
During the sentencing both sides will have the opportunity to present evidence to the judge, arguing for/against a lighter sentence. Sentencing may include fines, community service, probation or prison time.
In Nevada, sentences for felonies can last from one year to life in prison or even the death penalty. If the defendant is convicted of multiple crimes, it is up to the judge to decide if these sentences will be carried out concurrently or consecutively.
Criminal law in Las Vegas can be complex and confusing. In order to ensure that you fully understand what happens at each step of the process, your rights and what may happen at the end of your case, having a lawyer beside you can be vital. Not only will they steer you through the process, but they will defend your interests and work together with you to achieve the best outcome for your case.
Lauren Groff is an experienced law writer at Academized Reviews and Boomessays. She regularly writes about law and the criminal law process in different states. Lauren is passionate about educating her readers on their rights and supporting them to find representation. When not writing, Lauren enjoys spending time reading and travelling.