Nevada "Bench Trial" Laws
Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys

Anybody who is charged with a crime in Nevada has the right to a trial. Some defendants may elect to have a Nevada trial by jury, but others are entitled only to a trial by judge called a "bench trial." A skilled Las Vegas criminal defense attorney would be familiar with each of the local judges and would craft a defense in accordance with that particular judge's past rulings and views.

This article explains Las Vegas bench trial law.  Keep reading to learn about the right to a bench trial in Nevada.

What is a bench trial in Las Vegas, Nevada?

In Nevada criminal cases, a bench trial (also called a "trial by court") is a trial where the presiding judge renders the verdict and, if necessary, the sentence. No jury is involved.

Does everyone have the right to a bench trial in Las Vegas, Nevada?

Yes. Article III of the U.S. Constitution affirms that everyone who is charged with a crime has the right to a fair trial. Even charges as minor as speeding tickets in Nevada may be litigated in a bench trial. Note that only competent people may stand trial.

Can bench trial verdicts be appealed in Las Vegas, Nevada?

Yes. Defendants who are found guilty of a crime may appeal the verdict to a higher court. For instance guilty verdicts in Las Vegas Justice Court may be appealed to Clark County District Court. Likewise guilty verdicts in Clark County District Court may be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

There are other avenues for attempting to overturn a bench trial verdict as well such as motions for a new trial and writs of habeas corpus. For more information about the Nevada appeals process, go to our informational article on the Nevada appeals process.

Img judge gavel

How can attorneys try to disqualify a judge from presiding over a criminal case in Las Vegas, Nevada?

When a criminal case is assigned to a judge who is biased towards one of the parties, ideally the judge would recuse him/herself and the case would be reassigned to a disinterested judge. But if a potentially biased judge refuses to step down, the defense or the prosecution may bring a motion to disqualify the judge alleging how the judge's biases would prejudice the outcome.

What is a bench trial like in Las Vegas, Nevada?

Bench trials tend to be shorter than jury trials because there is no lengthy jury selection process. The various stages of a Nevada bench trial are:

  • opening statements
  • the prosecution and defense present evidence and call witnesses
  • closing arguments
  • judicial deliberation in judge's chambers
  • verdict
  • sentencing (upon a finding of guilt)

Can defendants request a jury trial in Las Vegas, Nevada?

At this time Nevada law recognizes the right to a trial by jury only if the defendant is facing more than six months in jail. So defendants who are accused of just one misdemeanor in Nevada (which carries a maximum sentence of six months) do not have the right to a jury trial. An exception is for misdemeanor battery domestic violence in Nevada -- defendants may have a jury trial or a bench trial. 

But defendants accused of a misdemeanor in Nevada always have the right to a bench trial.

What are the benefits of jury trials over bench trials in Las Vegas, Nevada?

Some people argue that jury trials are fairer because the defendant is being judge by "peers" rather than an authority figure who may compare the present case to past cases he/she presided over. On average, a defendant stands a better chance of acquittal from a jury than a judge. On the other hand, bench trials tend to be briefer and less costly than jury trials.

Arrested?  Call . . . .

If you have been arrested for an offense in Nevada, phone Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation. Perhaps they can resolve your case with prosecutors so you avoid the time and expense of having a trial at all.



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