Anyone convicted of felonies or gross misdemeanors in Nevada may "appeal" to the Nevada Supreme Court. Appeals are complicated, technical and time-consuming. But a good Las Vegas criminal defense attorney may be able to get a new trial or even the verdict reversed.
This article explains the Nevada "appeals" process for felonies and gross misdemeanors. Continue reading to learn about grounds for appeal and appeal procedures.
What is an appeal in Nevada criminal cases?
An appeal is when a defendant challenges a court ruling by asking a higher court to review and hopefully reverse that ruling. Defendants in criminal cases may appeal any of the following:
- A guilty verdict,
- A sentence (such as prison time and/or fines), or
- Judicial decisions made before the trial or during the trial (such as admitting prejudicial evidence)
Put another way, an appeal is a request that a higher court determines that the lower court made a big error that needs to be corrected. Note that defendants who pursue appeals are called "appellants."
Which court handles appeals for felonies and gross misdemeanors?
All cases for felonies in Nevada state courts and gross misdemeanors in Nevada state courts may be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court. About one-third of all cases filed with the Nevada Supreme Court will be assigned to the lower Nevada Court of Appeals.
Note that cases for misdemeanors in Nevada state courts may be appealed only to the county district court. And federal criminal cases in Nevada may be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and then maybe the U.S. Supreme Court. Learn more about Nevada federal appeals law. (See our articles on the Nevada Supreme Court in Las Vegas and the Nevada Supreme Court in Carson City.)
Can defendants introduce new evidence in Nevada criminal appeals?
No. The Nevada Supreme Court does not hear testimony or retry cases. The Nevada Supreme Court only reviews the transcripts and proceedings that took place during the trial. In short, all the Supreme Court is looking for in an appeal is procedural and constitutional errors that occurred at trial.
What are possible grounds for appeal?
The following are common grounds for appeal in Nevada criminal cases:
- The District Court judge incorrectly applied a law or regulation (such as failing to sever a case when the joinder of multiple charges or co-defendants in Nevada was prejudicial to the defendant).
- The District Court judge made an incorrect ruling on the admissibility of evidence.
- There was insufficient evidence to support the conviction.
- The jury was given improper instructions.
- The prosecutors engaged in prosecutorial misconduct in Nevada.
Note that the Nevada Supreme Court decides only "questions of law," not "questions of fact." Questions of law concern whether the law was applied correctly. Questions of fact concern the truthfulness of evidence, such as the credibility of witnesses.
What's the appeals process for gross misdemeanor cases?
Defendants who wish to pursue an appeal must file a "notice of appeal" with the District Court clerk within 30 days of the trial's entry of judgment. Then the District Court prepares "the record," which includes all the transcripts and proceedings of the trial. The District Court notifies the defendant and prosecution once it files the record with the Nevada Supreme Court.
Once the record is filed, the defendant usually has 120 days to write and file the "brief." The brief explains all the issues and arguments justifying an appeal. It also references relevant laws and cases to back up the arguments. Note that the defense attorneys must raise every feasible issue and argument in that brief or else they may lose the right to raise those arguments later.
After the defendant files the brief, the prosecution may file an opposition. Then the defendant may file a reply to that opposition. Sometimes a panel of judges makes its decisions just from reading the briefs. Or sometimes it holds "oral arguments" where both sides have a half hour to embellish on the briefs and answer judges' questions.
Afterwards, the judges will discuss the issues among themselves. Then one of them will compose a written decision that either upholds ("affirms") the trial's verdict or reverses it. Depending on the ruling, the court may "remand" the case back to the lower court for a new trial.
How long are appellate briefs?
Convicted defendants who are not sentenced to life must appeal using the "Fast Track" process. This means the brief can't be longer than 15 pages. The Nevada Supreme Court may then ask for longer briefs if they think a more in-depth discussion is necessary.
Conversely, defendants who are sentenced to life in Nevada State Prison have to file a longer brief and may not use the Fast Track process.
Are appeals the only options defendants have to challenge a conviction in Nevada criminal cases?
No, there are two other avenues that defendants may explore for post-conviction relief:
One is a motion for a new trial in Nevada, which is when a defendant asks for a "do-over" of the trial in the same court. Note that these motions are rarely successful because judges are hesitant to reverse themselves or admit they made a mistake.
The other is a writ of habeas corpus in Nevada, which is when the defendant challenges the legality of his/her imprisonment. Defendants may not pursue this option until he/she has exhausted all other avenues, including appeals. One of the most common arguments defendants make in writs is that their trial suffered from "ineffective assistance of counsel."
Note that unlike with appeals, defendants are allowed to introduce new evidence in both motions for new trials and habeas corpus writs.
Convicted? Call us for help...
If you've been convicted of a felony or gross misdemeanor in Nevada, call our Las Vegas criminal appeals attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation about "appealing" your case. We may be able to get the case remanded and verdict reversed.
We represent clients throughout Nevada, including Las Vegas, Henderson, Washoe County, Reno, Carson City, Laughlin, Mesquite, Bunkerville, Moapa, Elko, Pahrump, Searchlight and Tonopah.
For information on California felony appeal law, see our article on California felony appeal law.
Go to our Nevada Appeals Main Page