You probably already know what a trial is, but most people are unfamiliar with "preliminary hearings" in Nevada.
Preliminary hearings are similar to trials, though not everyone has the right to one and they are much harder to win. But they are an important part of the criminal defense process in Las Vegas and can help determine the outcome of your case. On this page, you will find general information about preliminary hearings in Nevada.
What is a preliminary hearing in Las Vegas?
A preliminary hearing is a standard pretrial proceeding in most Nevada felony and Nevada gross misdemeanor cases. Also called a "probable cause" hearing, a preliminary hearing is where the state tries to persuade the judge that they have sufficient reason to press criminal charges and keep you in jail pending trial unless you have not already bailed out.
If I was charged with a felony or gross misdemeanor in Nevada, do I have a right to a preliminary hearing?
Most of the time. If you were indicted by a grand jury (which happens in only a small minority of criminal cases), then you do not have the right to a preliminary hearing. Otherwise, you do have the right to a preliminary hearing if you were charged with a felony or gross misdemeanor in Nevada.
When do preliminary hearings occur in Las Vegas cases?
You have the right to a preliminary hearing two weeks after your arraignment (which is your first major court appearance where you are formally charged). However, most preliminary hearings tend to occur two to three months into a case so your attorney has ample time to prepare. You can also ask the court to subpoena witnesses in Nevada to testify on your behalf.
What if I lose the preliminary hearing? What if I win?
If the state wins your preliminary hearing, then your case will simply be "bound over" from Justice Court to Clark County District Court and set for trial. Meanwhile, your attorney will continue to negotiate with the prosecutor in the hopes of reaching an acceptable plea deal so you can avoid trial altogether.
But if you win the preliminary hearing, then your case should be dismissed and you will be released from custody or the terms of your bond. However, you may later be rearrested on the same charges if the state decides to pursue a grand jury indictment.
Occasionally, the judge might add or amend charges in your case based on the evidence presented in the preliminary hearing. And if your case has multiple charges, you may win on some and not others at a preliminary hearing in Nevada.
If I am entitled to a preliminary hearing in Nevada, do I have to have one?
Not necessarily. If your attorney can negotiate a plea bargain for you early in the case or can persuade the prosecutor to dismiss your case, you may waive your right to a preliminary hearing in Nevada. Otherwise, you should have a preliminary hearing before your case goes to trial.
What is a Las Vegas preliminary hearing like?
Preliminary hearings resemble trials in that both your attorney and the state may present and cross-examine witnesses, introduce evidence, and make closing arguments. However, preliminary hearings do not include opening arguments and you do not have the right to a jury (just a judge).
Another big difference is that the state has a much lower burden of proof: Whereas in trials, the prosecutor must prove each charge beyond a reasonable doubt before you can be convicted, in preliminary hearings the state need only show "slight or marginal evidence" that you committed the crimes you were charged with. Therefore, preliminary hearings are much more difficult to win than trials.
If preliminary hearings are so difficult to win in Nevada, what is the point of having them?
Preliminary hearings are useful tools for your attorney to see how strong the state's evidence is and to gauge your chances of success at trial. For instance, if your attorney can extract beneficial sworn testimony during the preliminary hearing, he/she may be able to use it at trial in your defense or as a bargaining chip to negotiate a better deal.
Should I plea bargain before or after a preliminary hearing?
It depends on your case, though it usually behooves you to try to settle the case prior to a preliminary hearing . . . .
Preliminary hearings are a lot of work, so many prosecutors try to get out of doing them by offering you a good plea bargain up front on the condition that you waive your right to a preliminary hearing. So if you decide to go through with a preliminary hearing after all, the prosecutor may "punish" you by then offering you a harsher plea bargain or refusing to negotiate at all. Learn more about Nevada plea negotiations in our article on Nevada plea negotiations.
Accused of a crime? Call 702-DEFENSE.
If you have been arrested for a criminal offense in or around Clark County, call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free phone meeting to discuss how we can help. We may be able to get your charges settled well before a preliminary hearing so you can put your case behind you as soon as possible.
To learn about California preliminary hearings, go to our page on California preliminary hearings.