A pre-file investigation in Nevada is when the District Attorney investigates alleged criminal activity before filing any charges. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the District Attorney will decide either to prosecute the suspects or to drop the case. During this time, suspects can retain counsel to conduct their own pre-file investigation in an attempt to gather evidence favorable to the defense. Depending on what the defense attorney finds during the pre-file investigation, the defense attorney may be able to keep charges from ever being filed so the suspect can avoid prosecution and Nevada State Prison.
On this page, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys explain what occurs during pre-file investigations, and how hiring an attorney prior to charges being filed is in a suspect's best interest.
What is a pre-file investigation in Nevada?
If police suspect someone broke the law in Nevada, they will investigate the matter. This is called a “pre-file investigation” because the police are looking into the case prior to any criminal charges being filed.
During a pre-trial investigation, law enforcement may interview witnesses, gather evidence, search background records, and hire independent experts. Once the investigation is over, the District Attorney (D.A.) decides based on the evidence whether to press charges. If someone suspects he/she is being investigated for a crime, he/she can retain counsel to do their own investigation.
How do I know if I am being investigated for a crime in Nevada?
Often suspects will simply receive a knock on their door or a phone call by detectives from Las Vegas Metropolitan Police or other agencies. But in many cases police conduct secret probes so that suspects have no idea that they are under investigation. These covert investigations permit detectives to gather information without fear that the suspect will flee Nevada or destroy evidence. Learn more about the Nevada crime of destroying evidence.
How long are pre-file investigations in Nevada?
It varies case-to-case. It is not unusual for pre-file investigation in large-scale drug, theft or white-collar crime cases to last several months or longer.
Do pre-file investigations occur before or after the suspect's arrest in Nevada?
It depends on the case…
In some cases, the police may suspect someone of criminal activity but have insufficient probable cause to arrest him/her. Therefore the police will conduct a pre-file investigation in an effort to determine whether there is enough evidence to justify a Nevada arrest (NRS 171.104). If they gather adequate evidence against the suspect, the police will arrest him/her.
In other cases, an arrest is the start of a pre-file investigation. Getting arrested does not necessarily mean that the D.A. has enough evidence to press charges. Therefore whenever a suspect is arrested, the case typically goes into “screening” … this is when the D.A. examines (“screens”) the evidence to decide whether the case is strong enough to bring criminal charges. If there is not enough evidence, the D.A. will “deny the case,” which means no criminal charges will be brought.
In more serious or high profile cases, police may have enough probable cause to arrest a suspect but will hold off on until they gather all available evidence through the pre-file investigation. This way the D.A. is confident from the beginning they have a strong case and can formally press charges shortly after the arrest.
Do I have to talk to police if I am being investigated for a crime in Nevada?
No. And we advise that suspects never speak to police. Everyone on U.S. soil has the Constitutional Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and to remain silent. Furthermore, choosing to remain silent cannot be used against suspects in court. But if a suspect gives a damning statement to police, it is very difficult to get that statement excluded as evidence.
When people are being investigated for a crime, they are understandably very eager to tell their side of the story to police. Suspects may feel that if they cooperate fully and answer every question, the investigation will go away. But that does not happen. Speaking to the police can only make matters worse…
Cops are allowed to lie when they question suspects. They may employ sneaky interrogation tactics to elicit a confession. They may twist a suspect's words around. They may act friendly to win a suspect's confidence or act like bullies to intimidate a suspect into talking. That is why suspects should remain silent and let their attorneys speak for them.
So what do I tell the police when they ask me questions in Nevada?
If the police call or knock on the door, avoid answering. Otherwise, say you are exercising your Fifth Amendment rights to remain silent. And if the police ask for permission to search your person or your home, politely refuse. Police may only conduct searches if they have a lawful warrant or under other extenuating circumstances. Learn more about Nevada search and seizure laws.
Can I hire a lawyer if I have not been charged with a crime yet in Nevada?
Absolutely, and it is recommended that anyone under investigation retains counsel as soon as possible. That way defense counsel can proactively conduct its own investigation, hire its own scientific experts and detectives, and gather information. Defense counsel also serves as an intermediary between the detectives and the suspect, and defense counsel can demand that the detectives stop contacting the suspects.
Can my lawyer speak with the D.A. while I am under investigation in Nevada?
Yes, criminal defense attorneys are free to contact prosecutors to discuss a case under investigation. In some circumstances, the defense attorney may be able to persuade the D.A. to file less serious charges or not to bring charges at all. But depending on the case, reaching out to the D.A. before the suspect is charged may not be the best idea…
The D.A.'s office is swamped with thousands of criminal cases. When a defense attorney approaches the D.A. about a suspect that is still under “pre-file investigation,” it draws attention to a case that may otherwise go unnoticed. So a defense attorney may choose to adopt a “wait-and-see” approach in the hopes that the case may fall through the cracks without charges being filed.
Can my lawyer stop charges from being brought against me in Nevada?
It depends on the circumstances of the case. If the defense attorney can compile enough exculpatory (favorable) evidence, it is possible that the D.A. may elect to drop the investigation and never bring charges. But if prosecutors have an otherwise strong case, the D.A. may decide to force the matter to play out in court.
Suspected of a crime? Call us…
If you are being investigated for a crime in Nevada, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys advise that you do not speak with police. Instead call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) right away. We will explain your rights and discuss how we can help. Perhaps we can dissuade the prosecutors from bringing criminal charges at all. For cases in Calfornia, please see our page on pre-file investigations by California criminal defense lawyers.
Also see our related article on statutes of limitations in Nevada criminal cases.