The Nevada pretrial process begins when a criminal defendant is arraigned and enters a "not guilty" plea. The defense and prosecution may then trade discovery, file various motions, and negotiate a possible resolution that would dispense with the need to go to trial at all.
The pretrial phase may last anywhere from a few weeks to several years depending on the complexity of the matter and whether both sides agree to a plea bargain. In this article our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys explain the following aspects of the Nevada criminal pretrial process:
(Click on a topic to go directly to that section)
Discovery is the process by which defense counsel and the prosecution exchange evidence in a Nevada case. Discovery is conducted in accordance with strict procedural rules which require that both sides provide each other with all the evidence relevant to the case. Typical discovery in Las Vegas includes:
- Police and investigation reports.
- Physical evidence, such as breath or blood test results in a Nevada DUI case.
- All relevant written or recorded statements.
- Witness information, including their names and past statements they may introduce. The prosecution also has to inform the defense if their witnesses have any felony convictions, which the defense may use to impeach their credibility on the witness stand.
- Exculpatory evidence, which is all the evidence the prosecution has which is favorable to the defendant.
Much of a Nevada case's pretrial phase takes place inside the courtroom including preliminary hearings, motion hearings and sometimes the handing over of discovery. Last-minute negotiations often take place right outside the courtroom.
Sometimes the prosecution and/or defense refuse to give over certain evidence or disagree whether certain evidence is "relevant" enough to be used at trial. In these cases they may ask the judge to intervene via a "pretrial motion" and determine whether the evidence may be produced.
A pretrial motion is a request by an attorney for the judge to make a decision on a specific procedural or evidentiary matter before the case proceeds to trial. Depending on the circumstances, attorneys may make motions orally in open court or submit them in writing.
Two typical pretrial motions in criminal law include (i) a motion to dismiss in Nevada, and (ii) a motion to suppress in Nevada:
Motion to dismiss in Nevada
A motion to dismiss is when a defense attorney asks the court to throw out some or all of the defendant's charges. Defense attorneys typically file this motion after the preliminary hearing in Nevada if they believe the prosecution failed to demonstrate "probable cause" for pressing criminal charges. If a judge grants a motion to dismiss, the charge(s) at issue will be dropped.
Motion to suppress evidence in Nevada
In Nevada criminal cases, a motion to suppress evidence is a request for the court to exclude certain evidence from ever being introduced at a Nevada trial. There are various reasons an attorney can give to try to justify a motion to suppress such as:
- The evidence is not relevant, or that the evidence's relevancy is outweighed by the prejudicial effect it would have on the defendant.
- The evidence would endanger the safety of the defendant or witness.
- The evidence was obtained as a result of an illegal search or seizure such as with an invalid search warrant in Nevada.
If a judge grants a defendant's motion to suppress certain evidence, then the prosecution will not be allowed to introduce that evidence at trial. This could hinder the prosecution's ability to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and may sway them to offer a plea bargain to the defense. Often the state will dismiss the case altogether if its key evidence gets suppressed.
3. Plea Bargains at Las Vegas, Nevada pretrial conferences
Plea bargains are the criminal law equivalent of "settling out of court." And similar to civil cases such as contract disputes or personal injury matters, most Nevada criminal cases are resolved through negotiation in the pretrial stage so that the parties never end up having to go to trial.
Plea-bargaining in Nevada often begins very early in a case's pretrial stage. Plea-bargaining may last a few days or many years depending on the seriousness of the case, the available evidence, and any new developments in the case.
When both sides agree on a plea bargain, the defendant will plead guilty or "no contest" to a lesser charge with a reduced sentence. This way the defendant avoids the time and expense of trial and the risk of getting a guilty verdict on the original charges. In some plea bargains, the defendant's case will even get dismissed completely after he/she completes the sentence. Read more in our article about Nevada plea deals.
Examples of common plea bargains in Las Vegas
Defendants charged with a first offense of the Nevada crime of shoplifting or the Nevada crime of prostitution might instead be able to plea bargain to the Nevada crime of breach of peace or the Nevada crime of trespass. These offenses carry less of a social stigma and do not look as bad when potential employers run background checks on them.
In some cases, prosecutors will agree to negotiate a Nevada DUI down to the Nevada crime of reckless driving. Penalties are usually the same. However defendants may petition to get a reckless driving conviction sealed from their criminal record after only two years, whereas DUIs carry a seven-year waiting period.
Arrested? Call . . . .
If you have been accused of an offense in Nevada, call 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers will consult with you for free about whether they may be able to use the pretrial process to get your charge reduced or even dismissed. But if necessary, they are prepared to litigate your matter all the way to trial.
For information about the California pretrial process, go to our information page on the California pretrial process.