In Nevada, a jury trial involves local citizens, known as a “petit jury,” who determine the verdict of a defendant based on presented evidence. You are entitled to a jury trial if you are facing more than six months imprisonment or if you are charged with misdemeanor battery domestic violence. Jury trials consist of 6 to 12 jurors, with verdicts requiring unanimous agreement.
Scroll down further to learn about the right to a jury trial and how juries operate.
1. What is a jury in Las Vegas, Nevada?
A jury (formally called a “petit jury”) is a group of local citizens in Nevada called upon to sit through a trial and then deliver a verdict. Juries may be used to determine not only your guilt or innocence but also, if necessary, your final sentence.1
2. Does everyone have the right to a jury trial in Nevada?
No. In Nevada, you may have a jury trial only if:
- you are facing more than six months in jail (which includes all felonies, gross misdemeanors, and cases with two or more misdemeanors), or
- you are charged with misdemeanor battery domestic violence.2
Otherwise, you are entitled to a “bench trial,” where your case is heard and decided by a judge rather than a jury.3 In practice, bench trials are more difficult to win than jury trials: Judges tend to be less sympathetic to defendants than a jury of one’s peers.4
Note that only competent people may stand trial. Incompetent defendants instead may be committed until if/when they regain competency.5
3. How big are Nevada juries?
Nevada juries must consist of 12 jurors, though you and the prosecution can agree to a jury as small as six.6 It does not matter whether the trial is in Justice Court or District Court.7
4. Do jury verdicts have to be unanimous?
Yes. A Nevada jury has to unanimously decide whether to find you “guilty” or “not guilty.”8 Otherwise it is a “hung jury,” and the judge declares a mistrial.
In cases of a mistrial, the prosecution may choose either to:
- start all over and prosecute the case again, or
- offer a plea bargain to a lesser charge, or
- drop the case completely
5. How are jurors selected?
Prospective jurors in Nevada are initially summoned at random through
- drivers’ license lists and
- voter registration lists.
Then once the jury pool (called a “venire”) comes to court, both the prosecution and defense lawyers question them (called “voir dire”) about their suitability to serve on a jury.
Typical questions asked of jurors include:
- Do you know or have dealings with any of the attorneys, plaintiffs, defendants, or prospective witnesses in this case?
- Do you already know anything about this case?
- Do you have philosophical, religious or other beliefs that would prevent you from making a fair and impartial judgment?
Prospective jurors are also asked to provide information such as their
- job history, and
- any prior involvement in lawsuits.
Both the prosecution and your defense team then get to “excuse” a certain number of the potential jurors.
People are typically summoned for jury duty no more frequently than ever 18 months.
6. Can jury verdicts be overturned?
A judge may never throw out a jury’s “not guilty” verdict. Though a judge may overturn a jury’s “guilty” verdict if the judge believes the evidence did not support a finding of guilt.
7. How can attorneys discharge jurors from a case?
There are two ways an attorney may discharge a juror from a jury in Nevada: 1) For cause challenges, and 2) peremptory challenges.
- For cause: Like it sounds, “for cause challenges” are when a juror is discharged for a specific reason that could preclude their ability to carry out their duties. The attorney seeking the discharge has to state the reason, such as:
- the juror admits to a bias against you,
- the juror is ill,
- the juror is inattentive or fell asleep during the trial,
- the jury displayed a heightened emotional reaction to evidence, or
- the juror engaged in misconduct
There is no limit to how many “for cause challenges” may occur during a trial.
- Peremptory challenges. A peremptory challenge allows an attorney to discharge a juror without stating the reason. You and the prosecution are each entitled to four (4) peremptory challenges per trial occurring in alternating order. Though if you are facing life in prison or death, the limit is upped to eight (8) peremptory challenges each.9
Note that attorneys are not allowed to discharge jurors just because they are a certain
- sexual orientation, or
- part of another “cognizable group.”
If the opposing side suspects the attorney may have broken this rule, they may raise a “Batson challenge” arguing that the trial is invalid.10
8. Can juries have alternate jurors?
Yes, a Nevada jury may include up to six alternate jurors to take the place of any impaneled jurors who are discharged from the case. Alternate jurors hear all the evidence that the impaneled jurors do and are ready to step in if one of them gets dismissed.
Note that attorneys for each side are allowed more peremptory challenges when alternate jurors become impaneled:
- If one or two alternate jurors are impaneled, each side is allowed one extra peremptory challenge that may be used only towards a new juror.
- If three or four alternate jurors are impaneled, each side is allowed two extra peremptory challenges that may be used only towards the new jurors.
- If five or six alternate jurors are impaneled, each side is allowed three extra peremptory challenges that may be used only towards the new jurors.11
Note that any unused peremptory challenges from the original jury may not be used towards alternate jurors who then become impaneled.
9. What is a jury trial like?
Jury trials are actually very rare. The majority of criminal cases are resolved without the parties going to trial at all.
If the case does not get dismissed and the prosecution and defense cannot agree to a plea bargain, they ask the judge to set a trial date. This is often several months after the case started.
The stages of a jury trial in Nevada are:
- jury selection (voir dire)
- opening statements
- presentation of evidence — called the “case in chief” — including examination and cross-examination of witnesses (who may have been compelled to appear through subpoenas)
- closing arguments
- jury deliberations
- if the verdict is guilty, then sentencing
10. What happens during jury deliberations?
After the prosecution and your defense team present closing arguments, the case officially “goes to the jury.”
At this point the judge reads the jury “jury instructions,” which informs them about the elements of the relevant crimes. The jury also chooses a “foreperson” to lead the deliberations.
Deliberations happen behind closed doors, but the jury may ask the judge
- for clarifications,
- to rehear testimony,
- to view the crime scene, etc.
These requests must be made with the attorneys present, and they may not consider any evidence outside of the court record.
During the trial, jurors may not speak to anyone about the case. During deliberation, jurors may speak only to each other about the case in the jury room.
In rare instances juries are sequestered from the general public throughout the trial and deliberations.
11. What is the difference between a regular jury and a grand jury in Las Vegas, Nevada?
The purpose of a jury (also called a “petit jury“) is to listen to the trial and render a verdict of guilty or not guilty. In contrast, a grand jury comes in at the very start of a case to decide whether to bring criminal charges against a suspect to begin with.
A grand jury comprises 17 jurors and 12 alternate jurors, and only 12 members need to vote yes to indict someone.12
For more information, refer to the following:
- How Courts Work – American Bar Association (ABA) guide explaining the jury selection process.
- Clark County Courts – Details on jury service in Clark County, Nevada specifically.
- Washoe County Juror Info – Guide to jury duty in Washoe County, Nevada.
- Nevada Judiciary – Overview of Nevada state courts and juries as well as Supreme Court rules.
- Failure to appear for jury duty (NRS 6.040) – Article by our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys.
- NRS 6. NRS 175.
- Andersen v. Eighth Judicial District Court (Nev. 2019) 448 P.3d 1120.
- Baldwin v. New York (1969) 399 U.S. 66. The reason for this “six month” rule goes to federal law: Although Article III of the U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone charged with a crime the right to a trial by jury, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that jury trial rights extend only to those facing more than six months in jail.
- Texas Constitution Section 10. Note that some states like Texas still afford everyone the option to have a jury trial no matter what they are charged with.
- NRS 179.400. See also Donahue v. City of Sparks (Nev. 1995) 903 P.2d 225. Smith v. State (Nev. 1983) 672 P.2d 631. Note that NRS 175.011(2)) seems to allow you to request jury trials for misdemeanor charges as long as you give 30 days’ notice. However, the Nevada Supreme Court has refused to recognize this law. See note 3.
- NRS 175.021.
- AB 42 (2021).
- NRS 175.481.
- NRS 175.051.
- See, for example, Flowers v. Mississippi (2019) ; Morgan v. State (Nev. 2018) 416 P.3d 212; Dixon v. State (Nev. 2021) .
- NRS 175.061.
- NRS 6.110; NRS 6.120. NRS 172.255.