- THE WAY IT WAS. As most Communiqué readers know, municipal courts primarily handle misdemeanor criminal cases with a maximum jail punishment of six months. Since Nevada treated these matters as “petty” offenses, there was no Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. Blanton v. City of North Las Vegas, 489 US 538 (1989). Misdemeanor crimes of battery constituting domestic violence (BDV) have this maximum six-month jail sentence, which kept the matters “petty,” and no jury trial right existed. Amezcua v. Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct. of State ex rel. Cty. of Clark, 130 Nev. 45, 319 P.3d 602 (2014)
- AND THEN CAME ANDERSEN. Although federal law prohibited a person convicted of BDV from possessing a firearm since 1996, no similar state firearm prohibition existed until 2015. In Andersen v. Eighth Judicial District Court, 135 Nev. 321 (2019), the Supreme Court of Nevada held that this new state firearm prohibition constituted an additional penalty, elevating BDV charges to “serious” offenses, entitling an accused to a jury trial.
- TEMPORARY FIX. At the time of the Andersen decision, municipal courts did not have the facilities or mechanisms to handle jury trials. As a temporary fix, the city of Las Vegas and other jurisdictions passed their own BDV ordinances that removed the firearm prohibition to negate the jury trial requirement. In 2021, the Nevada legislature passed AB 42, curing some of the logistical issues faced by municipal courts, and required defendants convicted of BDV within any jurisdiction to be prohibited from possessing a firearm. Accordingly, beginning this year, the Las Vegas Municipal Court will conduct jury trials for BDV cases.
- SIX V. TWELVE. Many states have six-person jury trials for misdemeanors. Nevada also only required six-person juries for misdemeanors. See NRS 175.021. In anticipation of jury trials, our new municipal courthouse was built with six-person jury boxes. The original version of AB 42 contemplated only six-person juries as well. However, the final enrolled version of AB 42 now requires twelve-person juries. While the city of Las Vegas appropriately planned for jury trials by installing six-person jury boxes in the new courthouse, it did not plan for twelve-person juries. As such, the city of Las Vegas is in the process of modifying our courtrooms to hold twelve-person juries plus alternates, which should be completed soon.
- THE MUNICIPAL COURT PLAN. Each of the Las Vegas Municipal Court criminal departments will hear BDV cases. Through a contractual agreement, District Court Jury Services will summons potential jurors to the Las Vegas Municipal Court on Tuesdays, where one department will start a jury trial. This will be a weekly rotation done in numerical department order. Calendar calls will be held Monday, the week prior to trial. A trial readiness hearing will be held approximately 30 days out to ensure all parties are ready to proceed. More information can be found at: https://www.lasvegasnevada.gov/Government/Municipal-Court/Jury-Trials.
About the author
Chief Judge Bert Brown was first elected to the Las Vegas Municipal Court in 1999. He presides over his normal calendar and HOPE Specialty Court, dealing with chronic repeat offenders.
About this article: This article was originally published in the “Five Things” issue of Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (Jan. 2022). See https://clarkcountybar.org/about/member-benefits/communique-2022/communique-january-2022/.
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