In a Nevada criminal case, a pretrial conference is a court hearing that takes place after your arraignment but prior to trial. Pretrial is when you and the prosecution may (1) trade discovery, (2) file pretrial motions, and (3) negotiate a possible resolution that dispels with the need for a trial at all.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys answer frequently-asked-questions about the pretrial process in Nevada, including discovery, motions and plea bargains. Click on a topic to jump to that section:
- 1. What is a pretrial in Nevada?
- 2. What is discovery?
- 3. What are pretrial motions?
- 4. What are plea bargains?
1. What is a pretrial in Nevada?
In general, the pretrial refers to the time period in a criminal case following your arraignment (when you plead “not guilty”) and before your trial (or entry of a plea, if the case resolves).
It is during the pretrial period that the state hands over its evidence (“discovery”) to you. You may file pretrial motions asking the judge to admit or keep out (“suppress”) certain evidence and subpoena witnesses. Meanwhile, you are negotiating with the D.A. to hammer out a plea bargain in an attempt to avoid going to trial.
The pretrial phase may last anywhere from a few weeks to several years depending on the complexity of your matter.
1.1. Las Vegas Municipal Court
In Las Vegas Municipal Court, the word “pretrial” refers to specific court dates where you and the prosecution update the judge on the status of your case. You typically get three (3) pretrials before the judge insists the case go to trial.
2. What is discovery?
Discovery is the process by which you and the prosecution exchange evidence in a Nevada case. Discovery is conducted in accordance with strict procedural rules which require that both sides provide each other with all the evidence relevant to the case.
Typical discovery in Las Vegas includes:
- Police and investigation reports,
- Physical evidence, such as breath or blood test results in a DUI case,
- All relevant written or recorded statements,
- Witness information, including their names and past statements (the prosecution also has to inform you if their witnesses have any felony convictions, which you may use to impeach their credibility on the witness stand), and/or
- Exculpatory evidence, which is all the evidence the prosecution has which is favorable to you.
Sometimes the prosecution refuses to give over certain evidence. In these cases, they may ask the judge to intervene via a “pretrial motion” and determine whether the evidence must be produced.1
3. What are pretrial motions?
A pretrial motion is a request by you (or your attorney) asking the judge to make a decision on a specific procedural or evidentiary matter before the case proceeds to trial. Depending on the circumstances, you may make motions orally in open court or submit them in writing.
3.1. Motion to dismiss
A motion to dismiss is when you ask the court to throw out some or all of your charges. Just some grounds for filing a motion to dismiss may include:
- The statute of limitations to bring the criminal charge had expired,
- The D.A. engaged in egregious prosecutorial misconduct, and/or
- The case violates your right against double jeopardy.
If a judge grants a motion to dismiss, the charge(s) at issue will be dropped.2
3.2. Motion to suppress evidence
A motion to suppress evidence is a request for the court to exclude certain evidence from ever being introduced at a Nevada trial. There are various grounds an attorney can give to try to justify a motion to suppress such as:
- The evidence is not relevant, or that the evidence’s relevancy is outweighed by the prejudicial effect it would have on you,
- The evidence would endanger your safety, and/or
- The evidence was obtained as a result of an illegal search or seizure such as with an invalid search warrant.
If a judge grants your motion to suppress certain evidence, then the prosecution will not be allowed to introduce that evidence at trial. This could hinder the prosecution’s ability to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and may sway them to offer a plea bargain. Often the state will dismiss the case altogether if its key evidence gets suppressed.3
3.3. Motion to sever charges or co-defendants
If an alleged criminal act involves multiple charges and/or co-defendants, prosecutors frequently “join” them all together in one case. While this may be convenient for prosecutors, it may be prejudicial to you.
You can file a “motion to sever” asking the court to separate out your criminal charges into separate cases or to try your case separately from your co-defendants. Learn more about joinder.4
4. What are plea bargains?
Plea bargains are the criminal law equivalent of “settling out of court.” Similar to civil cases such as personal injury matters, most Nevada criminal cases resolve through negotiation in the pretrial stage so that you never go to trial.
Plea-bargaining in Nevada often begins very early in a case’s pretrial stage. Plea-bargaining may last a few days or many months depending on the seriousness of the charges, the evidence, and any new developments. Last-minute negotiations often take place right outside the courtroom.
When both sides agree on a plea bargain, you usually will plead guilty or “no contest” to a lesser charge with a reduced sentence. This way you avoid
- the time and expense of trial, and
- the risk of getting a guilty verdict on the original charges.
In some plea bargains, your case will even get dismissed completely after you complete the sentence. This means there is no conviction, and you can pursue a record seal right away.
4.1. Examples of common plea bargains
If you are facing charges of a first-time offense of shoplifting or prostitution in Nevada, you might instead be able to plead to breach of peace or trespass. These offenses carry less of a social stigma and do not look as bad when potential employers run background checks on them.
In some cases, prosecutors will agree to negotiate a DUI down to reckless driving. Penalties are usually the same. However, you may petition to get a reckless driving conviction sealed from your criminal record after only one (1) year, whereas DUIs carry a seven (7) year waiting period.5