A pre-file investigation in Nevada is when police and prosecutors investigate alleged criminal activity prior to arresting the suspect. If prosecutors find probable cause that a crime occurred, they will file charges. Suspects who know they are under investigation can hire criminal defense attorneys to gather favorable evidence and try to persuade prosecutors to drop the case without pressing charges.
Below, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What are pre-file investigations in Nevada?
- 2. How do I find out if I am under investigation?
- 3. How long are pre-file investigations?
- 4. Do investigations occur before arrests?
- 5. Do I have to talk to police if I am a suspect?
- 6. What do I tell police when they question me?
- 7. Can I hire a lawyer before there are criminal charges?
- 8. Can my lawyer speak with the D.A. while I am under investigation?
- 9. Can my lawyer stop criminal charges against me?
- 10. Can my lawyer stop criminal charges against me?
When police suspect criminal activity, they investigate. This is called a pre-file. It precedes filing criminal charges.
During a pre-file, law enforcement may:
- Interview witnesses,
- Gather physical evidence,
- Search background records, and
- Hire independent experts
The District Attorney (D.A.) then decides whether to press charges. People who know they are under investigation should lawyer up as soon as possible. Defense attorneys conduct independent probes, which place suspects in a readier position if the D.A. prosecutes.1
Police detectives may phone or show up at suspects’ doorsteps. But often pre-files remain secret. Covert operations reduce the chances that suspects will flee or destroy evidence (NRS 199.220).
If an investigator calls, do not answer. And give no information. Suspects may inadvertently say something that could hurt their case. Instead, suspects should consult an attorney.
It varies case-to-case. Some can last months. This is not unusual in cases involving:
- Large-scale rings for drug-trafficking (NRS 453.3385)
- White-collar crimes
- Racketeering (NRS 207.400)
It depends. Sometimes police have insufficient probable cause to arrest a suspect. Therefore the police will conduct a pre-file investigation. If they gather adequate evidence, they will conduct an arrest, and the D.A. will file charges.
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 police reports 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. This 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 investigation. Then they might pursue an indictment, where a grand injury – instead of one judge – finds that there is probable cause for arrest. This way the D.A. is confident from the beginning they have a strong case and can formally press charges shortly after the arrest.2
Note that “probable cause” is a much lower bar than “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which is the standard for convicting a defendant.
No. Never speak to police. People have the Constitutional right against self-incrimination. This is the right to remain silent. And choosing to remain silent cannot be used against suspects in court.3
Meanwhile, giving damning statements to police can sink a defense. It is difficult to get statements or confessions excluded as evidence.
When people are being investigated for a crime, they are understandably eager to tell their side of the story to police. Suspects may feel that if they cooperate fully and answer questions, the investigation will go away. But that does not happen. Speaking to the police can only make matters worse.
Police are allowed to lie when they question suspects. They may employ sneaky interrogation tactics to elicit a confession. They may say the suspect is only a witness and not under investigation at all. They may twist a suspect’s words around, 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.
If the police call or knock, avoid answering. Otherwise, say you are exercising the Fifth Amendment and remain silent.
If police do have a search warrant, then let them search. Otherwise, the D.A. can bring obstruction (NRS 197.190) charges as well.
Absolutely. Anyone under investigation for committing a crime should hire an experienced attorney. That way, defense counsel can:
- Proactively conduct its own investigation.
- Hire its own scientific experts and detectives.
- Gather information.
- Serve as intermediary between the suspect and defectives.
- Demand that detectives stop contacting the suspect.
In many cases, a Nevada attorney can appear on the defendant’s behalf at the arraignment.
Yes. Criminal defense lawyers may discuss pre-file cases with prosecutors. This might persuade the D.A. to drop the charges or file less serious charges. But in some cases, contacting the D.A. early is not wise.
Thousands of cases swamp the D.A.’s office with some going unnoticed, especially misdemeanors. Contacting prosecutors about a case draws attention to it, so it may be best to wait and see what happens. Maybe the case will fall through the cracks, resulting in no charges.
Possibly. First your criminal attorneys will evaluate the exculpatory (favorable) evidence. Then they can approach the D.A. and argue that the state does not have sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction. The D.A. may then elect to drop the investigation.
But some prosecutors insist on bringing formal charges and forcing the matter to play out in court no matter what criminal lawyers do to dissuade them.
The statute of limitations by which Nevada prosecutors must press charges usually depends on the class of crime:
|Nevada crime category ||Statute of limitations |
|Most felonies||3 years after the crime|
|Gross misdemeanors||2 years after the crime|
|Misdemeanors||1 year after the crime|
|Sexual assault (NRS 200.366)||20 years after the assault (or anytime if a police report is filed within 20 years of the assault, or if there is DNA evidence of the suspect)|
|Sex trafficking (NRS 201.300)||4 years after the trafficking (or anytime if a police report is filed within 20 years of the trafficking, or if there is DNA evidence of the suspect)|
|Murder (NRS 200.030) or terrorism||Anytime|
The statute of limitations can also be extended by decades when the crime involved a victim in a sex crime. And for “secret crimes” such as theft or fraud, the statute of limitations may pause (“toll”) until the crime is discovered.
Learn more about criminal statutes of limitations in Nevada.
Investigated for a crime in Nevada? Do not speak any police officers. Call our law firm to discuss creating an attorney-client relationship.
We represented clients charged with every type of criminal offense, including DUI, sexual assault, hit and run, domestic violence, theft, and more. And we serve clients in Las Vegas, NV, Henderson, and throughout the state.
Also learn about criminal statutes of limitations in Nevada.
In California? Learn about pre-file investigations in California.
- See NRS 171.1223 – .1239.
- See, e.g. Nev. v. Santiago, 2015 Nev. Dist. LEXIS 1219 (Eighth Judicial District Court of Nevada, Clark County Sep 25, 2015); Ramirez v. State, (Nevada Supreme Court, 1998) 114 Nev. 550, 958 P.2d 724.
- Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.