Almost all criminal cases in Nevada are resolved through a “plea bargain.” Plea deals allow you to avoid the harsher criminal sentences that come with being found guilty at a trial.
In some cases, plea negotiations involve “stayed adjudications” or “submittals” that allow your charges to be totally dismissed. In other plea bargains, charges for felonies can get reduced to lower-level felonies or even misdemeanors.
Though if you ever regret entering a plea, it is very difficult to then withdraw a plea.
In this article our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys answer frequently-asked-questions about plea bargains in Nevada. Scroll down for more information about the definition, procedures, and pros and cons of resolving a criminal case without a trial.
(Click on a question to go directly to the answer)
- 1) What is a plea bargain in Nevada?
- 2) What are the benefits?
- 3) What are the downsides?
- 4) What strategies do defense attorneys use to negotiate a plea bargain with prosecutors?
- 5) Where does my defense attorney negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors
- 6) When can my defense attorney negotiate a plea bargain?
- 7) How long does it take to negotiate?
- 8) Do plea bargains have to include fixed terms, or can they include a range of possible terms?
- 9) If my case goes to trial, can I accept a plea bargain during the trial?
- 10) Can I accept a plea bargain after my criminal trial?
- 11) Do all plea deals require me to plead guilty?
- 12) Do some plea deals involve jail or prison time?
- 13) Can I get probation?
- 14) Can I plead “no contest” instead of “guilty”?
- 15) Will prosecutors ever refuse to negotiate a criminal case?
- 16) Will judges always agree to plea deals?
- 17) How do I enter a plea?
- 18) Does the judge sentence me on the same day I enter a plea?
- 19) Do I have to be present to enter a plea?
- 20) Are there some charges that cannot be resolved through a plea?
- 21) What if I break the terms?
- 22) Can I withdraw a plea?
- 23) Can non-citizens take plea bargains?
- 24)Am I ever required to take a plea?
- 25) What are some common plea bargains?
Also see our article on conditional plea agreements.
1) What is a plea bargain in Nevada?
“Plea bargains” go by various other names such as:
- plea deals, or
- plea agreements
Everyone charged with a crime in Nevada is entitled to a trial. A plea bargain is when you and the prosecution in a criminal case agree to a final result without going to trial. If you and the prosecution cannot agree to a plea bargain, the case will go to trial.
In essence, plea bargains are the criminal law version of “settling out of court.” Pleas involve negotiation and compromise, but you will probably get a resolution more favorable than if you went to trial and lost.
Example: Dave gets charged with a first-time DUI in Nevada in Las Vegas Municipal Court. Dave admitted to the cop that he was driving drunk, and his blood test results show a high blood-alcohol-content (BAC). Furthermore, Dave’s defense attorney cannot find anything in the evidence that suggests police misconduct or false BAC results. Dave’s defense attorney explains that Dave has a slim chance of winning if he went to trial because the evidence is skewed in the prosecution’s favor. Then if Dave went to trial and lost, he would potentially face the maximum DUI penalties of 6 months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Since Dave wishes to avoid going to jail, he asks his defense attorney to try to negotiate a favorable plea deal with the prosecutor. Dave’s attorney initially suggests that the prosecutor reduce the DUI charge to reckless driving, but the prosecutor refuses. Dave’s attorney then suggests that Dave plead to a DUI with the minimum penalties:
- $810 in fines;
- Victim Impact Panel class;
- DUI School class;
- You may not pick up any new arrests or citations while the case is open; and
- No jail unless Dave does not complete the other sentencing terms
If the prosecutor in the above example agrees to your defense attorney’s offer, the judge will probably agree with it as well and sign off on the deal. By entering this plea Dave will have a DUI conviction on his record, but he gets to stay out of jail as long as he is compliant with the sentencing terms.
2) What are the benefits?
You may choose to take a plea bargain in Nevada criminal cases for the following two reasons:
- You avoid the time and expense of trial; and
- The terms of a plea are usually laxer than the penalties the judge may impose following a guilty verdict at trial.
In all, you retain an element of feeling “in control” by taking a plea. Going to trial puts your fate in the judge’s or jury’s hands, and that uncertainty can be very unnerving.
3) What are the downsides?
Taking a plea in Nevada comes with a price, including the following three concessions:
- You waive your right to a trial;
- It may be impossible to reverse a plea deal if you later change your mind; and
- You risk the possibility that the judge will not agree to the plea bargain and will impose a harsher punishment (but this hardly ever happens).
In sum, taking a plea requires you to acknowledge some responsibility and perhaps plead guilty to a crime(s). Plus by taking the plea, you lose the possibility of a “not guilty” verdict at trial that could exonerate you completely.
4) What strategies do defense attorneys use to negotiate a plea bargain with prosecutors?
First your defense attorney would investigate all the possible evidence in the case including searching for witnesses, surveillance video, and anything else that could show you in a favorable light. Your defense attorney then goes to the prosecutor and points out all the holes and inaccuracies in the state’s evidence.
If your defense attorney is successful, the prosecutors may doubt their ability to prove you guilty if they took the case to trial.
If the prosecutors think they may have a weak case against you, they may offer a good plea deal whereby the charges get dismissed or reduced to lesser offenses. Though even if the prosecutors think they have a strong case, they often will still offer some kind of plea bargain in the hopes of avoiding trial.
5) Where does my defense attorney negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors?
In most Nevada criminal cases, your defense attorney and prosecutors negotiate through email and/or over the phone. In more serious cases, the attorneys on both sides may schedule office meetings.
Sometimes, plea negotiations even take place in the courtroom while the judge is off the bench or in the hallways of the courthouse.
6) When can my defense attorney negotiate a plea bargain?
You and the prosecution may try to negotiate a resolution at any time during the life of a criminal case up until a trial verdict is rendered.
Often the plea bargaining negotiations begin shortly after you have your arraignment. In some cases, plea deal talks can commence when you are only under investigation and have not even been arrested yet.
When prosecutors make a plea deal offer, they usually include a deadline by which time you must accept or else the offer will be rescinded. In many cases, prosecutors offer the most favorable plea deals early on in the court process shortly after the arraignment: If you stall in taking a deal, the prosecutor may punish you by worsening the plea deal offer.
Depending on the case, it may be worth waiting before you commit to a plea deal. If during the pretrial process your defense attorney can demonstrate that the state has insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution may be willing to sweeten the plea offer.
7) How long does it take to negotiate?
It varies case-to-case. Sometimes a plea resolution is reached over the course of one phone call or email exchange. Sometimes plea negotiations take weeks, months, or longer.
Low-level misdemeanor cases are often resolved quicker than high-level felony cases.
8) Do plea bargains have to include fixed terms, or can they include a range of possible terms?
Felony plea bargains often include ranges of possible terms, such as “2 to 5 years in prison.” It is then up to the judge to determine at the sentencing hearing how much prison to impose.
Depending on what you and the prosecution agree to in the plea bargain, the prosecution may either
- remain silent at sentencing or else
- argue that the judge impose penalties on the higher side of the range.
9) If my case goes to trial, can I accept a plea bargain during the trial?
Yes. You and the prosecution can seek a plea resolution even while the criminal trial is going on. Though once the verdict is rendered, you lose the opportunity to plea bargain.
10) Can I accept a plea bargain after my criminal trial?
No, not once the judge or jury returns a verdict. Once the verdict is rendered, you may not retroactively accept the prosecutor’s previous plea bargain offer.
If you do not like the outcome of a criminal trial in Nevada, your only modes of relief are to
- move for a new trial and/or
- submit an appeal.
11) Do all plea deals require me to plead guilty?
Not all. It depends on the case.
In some misdemeanor criminal cases in Nevada, the prosecutor may agree to a plea bargain by “submittal.” This is when the judge delays judgment until after you perform all the terms of the plea bargain such as
- paying a fine,
- doing community service, or
- attending a class.
If you successfully finish the terms, the judge will dismiss the case without you ever having to enter a plea or getting convicted.
In some other misdemeanor and felony cases, the prosecutor may agree to plea bargain by “stayed adjudication.” This is when the judge permits you to withdraw your guilty plea prior to the judge rendering a judgment in the case as long as you successfully finish all the sentencing terms. The judge will then dismiss the charge, and you will have no conviction.
Otherwise, you will have to enter a guilty plea, which will then count as a criminal conviction.
12) Do some plea deals involve jail or prison time?
Yes. For more serious felony cases in Nevada, one of the terms of the plea bargain can include time in custody. Felony plea bargains can also include term “ranges” such as 2 to 5 years in prison, and it is ultimately up to the judge to decide how much prison within that term to impose.
In most Nevada misdemeanor cases, the plea deal sentences involve no jail and just
- community service, and/or
- educational classes.
13) Can I get probation?
It depends on the case. There are some criminal charges for which the court is legally prohibited from granting probation.1 These include:
- DUI causing substantial injury or death
- causing death through a medical or health care procedure without a license
- felonies committed to promote or in furtherance of gangs
- contravening a protective order by committing attempted murder, battery which involves the use of a deadly weapon, battery which results in substantial bodily harm, or battery which is committed by strangulation
- using a deadly weapon or tear gas in the commission of murder, first-degree kidnapping, rape, or robbery
- sex trafficking a child
- vehicular homicide
- tampering with a breath ignition interlock device
- manufacturing drugs other than marijuana
- home invasion or burglary when you have a previous conviction for home invasion or burglary
- larceny from a person when the victim has an infirmity
14) Can I plead “no contest” instead of “guilty”?
Usually, yes. Pleading “no contest” yields the same result as pleading “guilty” – which is a conviction.
Though by pleading “no contest,” you are not admitting guilt. Instead, “no contest” is merely an acknowledgment that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to prove guilt.
For that reason you may prefer to plead “no contest” instead of “guilty.”
15) Will prosecutors ever refuse to negotiate a criminal case?
Prosecutors will usually entertain plea negotiations in any of their cases, but they are under no obligation to resolve a case without a trial. Furthermore prosecutors usually have a quota of cases they are required to take to trial.
If there is specific a case the prosecutor wants to take to trial, the prosecutor may purposely not offer any good plea deals to ensure you will choose to go to trial.
16) Will judges always agree to plea deals?
In the vast majority of cases, the judge will defer to any plea negotiation agreed to by you and the prosecution. Though note that the judge is not legally obliged to rubber stamp a plea deal: The judge always has the discretion to reject a plea deal and impose their own sentencing terms, but this hardly ever happens.
Note that if a judge does not agree to the plea deal, you can try to renegotiate another plea deal or go to trial.
17) How do I enter a plea?
If you and the prosecution agree to a resolution, they will tell the judge at the next court date. Either your defense attorney or the prosecutor will dictate the terms of the plea deal to the judge.
Then the judge will ask you a series of questions to determine whether you understand
- the resolution and
- the rights you are giving up.
Finally the judge will impose the sentence, which is almost always identical to the sentence you and the prosecution already agreed to. You will then get another court date by which time the sentencing terms should be completed.
18) Does the judge sentence me on the same day I enter a plea?
It depends on whether the charge is for a misdemeanor or felony.
In Nevada misdemeanor cases, the judge typically imposes a sentence right after the entry of plea. In Nevada felony cases, the judge imposes the sentence on a different day usually weeks after the entry of plea.
19) Do I have to be present to enter a plea?
It depends on two factors:
- Whether the charges are for a misdemeanor or a felony, and
- Whether the plea deal includes a period of incarceration or a “suspended jail sentence” (which is where the judge can impose jail if you fail to complete the other sentencing terms of the plea agreement)
In Nevada misdemeanor cases where the resolution involves no jail time or a suspended jail sentence, your defense attorney can appear in court without you present and enter the plea on your behalf.
In Nevada misdemeanor cases where the resolution involves jail time or a suspended jail sentence, the judge usually prefers for you to be present to enter the plea. However if you live out of state, the judge may accept a “written entry of plea” in lieu of your presence: A written entry of plea is a notarized document that you sign acknowledging that you understand the terms of the plea deal.
In Nevada felony cases, you are required to be present for the entry of plea even if the sentence involves no prison time.
20) Are there some charges that cannot be resolved through a plea?
No. Potentially every criminal case can be resolved by a negotiation, even murder. Though both you and the prosecution as well as the judge have to agree to the negotiation in order to avoid trial.
21) What if I break the terms?
Every plea bargain agreement outlines the consequences for violating its terms. Depending on the case, violating a plea bargain agreement can result in
- more sentencing terms, or
If the plea bargain included a suspended jail sentence, the judge has the discretion to impose that sentence as punishment for failure to carry out the terms of the plea bargain. Though if you have a good excuse for violating the terms of the plea bargain, the judge may give you a pass.
22) Can I withdraw a plea?
If you regret entering a plea, you can always try to withdraw your plea by filing a motion to withdraw the plea. However, the success rate for taking back a plea is very low in Nevada.
The most effective arguments for having a plea withdrawn include:
- You had ineffective assistance of legal counsel.
- You did not make the plea knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.
- You were not informed that probation may be unavailable.
If you entered a plea but have not yet been sentenced, you have a greater chance of withdrawing a plea than you would if the judge already sentenced you. Judges will not withdraw a plea just because you are dissatisfied with your sentences: By taking the plea in the first place, you assume the risk of the judge imposing an unfavorable sentence.
23) Can non-citizens take plea bargains?
Anyone charged with a crime in Nevada has the opportunity to resolve the case without a trial. For immigrants and non-citizens who are charged with deportable offenses, it is critical that they come to a resolution which does not put them at risk at being thrown out of the country.
Example: Pablo is a legal resident in Nevada in the process of applying for full citizenship. Las Vegas police arrest Pablo for child abuse, which is a crime of moral turpitude and can therefore get him deported from the U.S. Pablo does not want to go to trial, so his defense attorney tries to work out a plea bargain with the district attorney. The D.A. concedes there may be insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction for child abuse, but he is unwilling to dismiss the case outright. So instead the D.A. offers to reduce the charge to disorderly conduct.
If Pablo agrees to the D.A.’s offer in the above example, Pablo will not risk deportation because disorderly conduct is not a deportable offense.
24) Am I ever required to take a plea?
No. You are never required to resolve a case without a trial. Every person charged with a crime in Nevada including minor traffic tickets has the right to a trial.
25) What are some common plea bargains?
Below are some typical plea resolutions in Nevada for first-time offense charges of
- petit larceny,
- battery domestic violence, and
- personal drug possession.
Plea terms for first-time petit larceny (stealing less than $1,200 worth of property):
- $250; and
- Petit larceny class; and
- You may not get any further arrests or citations while the case is open
Upon successful completion of these terms, the judge will dismiss the case so there is no conviction. If you do not complete the terms, you will get convicted of petty larceny.
Note that the maximum penalties for a petty larceny conviction are 6 months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines. Learn more in our article on petit larceny.
Plea terms for first-time misdemeanor battery domestic violence:
- 2 days of jail (you usually get credit for the time you served following the arrest); and
- 48 to 120 hours of community service; and
- Up to $1,000 in fines; and
- 6 months of weekly counseling; and
- You may not get any further arrests or citations while the case is open
Upon successful completion of these terms, the judge will close the case. Although you will have a conviction for battery domestic violence, you can petition the court to seal the record once seven years pass after the case is closed. Learn more about sealing criminal records in Nevada.
Note that the maximum penalties for a battery domestic violence conviction are 6 months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines. For more information see our article on battery domestic violence.
Plea terms for first-time felony possession of drugs for personal use:
- A drug education class or a rehab program; and
- Fines; and
- 1 year suspended sentence in Nevada State Prison; and
- You may not get any further arrests or citations while the case is open
Upon successful completion of these terms, the judge will dismiss the case so there is no conviction. If you do not complete the terms, you will get convicted of felony drug possession and may have to serve up to 1 year in custody. For more information see our article on possession of drugs for personal use.
1NRS 453.321; NRS 200.485 NRS;200.830; NRS 200.840; NRS 205.060; NRS 205.067; NRS 205.270; NRS 484C.420; NRS 484C.430; NRS 453.322; NRS 484C.440; NRS 484C.470; NRS 201.300; NRS 193.165; NRS 193.166; NRS 193.168.