Sentencing is the next step after a defendant is found guilty of a crime in Las Vegas. The judge has final say over which punishment to impose. The Nevada criminal defense lawyer’s job is to argue for the minimum penalties associated with the offense.
This page explains how the Nevada criminal sentencing hearing operates as well as defense strategies to win a laxer sentence. Just keep scrolling down . . . .
What is a criminal sentencing in Las Vegas, Nevada?
A sentence is the punishment that a judge hands down to a defendant who has been convicted in a criminal case in Nevada. Sentences typically include one or more of the following terms:
- incarceration in Clark County Detention Center or Nevada State Prison
- house arrest with electronic surveillance
- a suspended jail sentence, where the defendant does not have to do jail unless he/she violates other terms the judge imposes
- rehabilitation programs and/or counseling
- educational classes like DUI School or a Victim Impact Panel
- an order to abstain from drugs or alcohol or to wear a SCRAM alcohol-detection device
- victim restitution payments
- probation, which is when the defendant avoids jail but is required to follow various court orders such as submitting to random drug tests, searches and electronic monitoring in Nevada
- an order to “stay out of trouble” (abbreviated SOOT), which means that the defendant may not pick up any new arrests while the case is open.
Does each crime have its own punishment in Las Vegas, Nevada?
In a way. Nevada law designates a range of possible sentences for each specific crime, and the judge ultimately decides which penalties within that range to impose. For instance, the least serious category of crimes are misdemeanors. They have a sentence range of:
- no jail to 6 months in Clark County Detention Center, and/or
- $0 to $1,000 in fines
The next category of crimes are gross misdemeanors. Their sentence range is:
- no jail to 1 year in Clark County Detention Center, and/or
- $0 to $2,000 in fines
Finally, there are felonies, which are the most serious class of crimes. Felonies, in turn, are divided into five sub-categories which each carries its own sentence range. These sub-categories are (from least harsh to most harsh):
- Category E felonies, which sentence usually includes:
- Probation, although the judge may order 1 to 4 years in prison and maybe an additional fine of up to $5,000.
- Category D felonies, which sentence usually includes:
- 1 to 4 years in prison, and
- maybe fines of up to $5,000
- Category C felonies, which sentence usually includes:
- 1 to 5 years in prison, and
- maybe fines of up to $10,000
- Category B felonies, which sentence usually includes:
- 1 to 20 years in prison
- Category A felonies, which sentence usually includes:
- life in prison with the possibility of parole, or
- life in prison without the possibility of parole, or
- death penalty
Whenever the defendant has been convicted of more than one crime, the sentences will run either consecutively (one after the other) or concurrently. Usually the judge decides whether they are concurrent or consecutive. But for some crimes, the order is already written into the law.
(NRS 176.035(1) says that when someone has been convicted of two or more felonies and has already been sentenced to prison for one, the judge may order that the second sentence run consecutively or concurrently.)
Does making a plea bargain guarantee the defendant a particular sentence?
No. The judge has the power to ignore a plea bargain and impose any sentence he/she deems fit as permitted by law. In practice however, the judge almost always defers to the prosecutor’s discretion and adopts the terms of the plea bargain. Learn more in our article on plea bargains.
When is a defendant sentenced?
It depends. If the defendant was convicted of only a misdemeanor, the judge often holds a “sentencing hearing” right after the conviction and decides on the sentence right away. But for more serious crimes such as felonies, the judge usually schedules the sentencing hearing several weeks out in order to give the defense and prosecution time to prepare for the hearing.
Learn more about what happens at sentencing hearings in Nevada at our informational page on sentencing hearings.
How does a judge determine a defendant’s sentence?
A judge takes several factors into account when deciding on a sentence. Among them are:
- the severity of the crime and the injuries or damages it caused
- the defense attorney’s arguments at the sentencing hearing, which may include “mitigating evidence” that suggests the defendant is less blameworthy and deserves a laxer sentence
- the prosecution’s arguments at the sentencing hearing, which may include “aggravating evidence” that suggests the defendant is more blameworthy and deserves a harsher sentence
- the defendant’s own testimony at the sentencing hearing (if he/she chooses to give any)
- recommendations by the Nevada Department of Parole and Probation (if the crime is a gross misdemeanor or felony); they calculate the defendant’s “probation success probability” score, based on 35 factors. And they use this score to determine where the defendant falls on the “sentencing recommendation selection scale.”
- testimony and letters by the defendant’s friends and family pleading for laxity
- testimony and letters by the victim and victim’s family pleading for a severe sentence (if the case had a victim)
- In some cases the judge may also consider the defendant’s criminal history
Also see our article about the early termination of probation.
Can a defendant appeal a sentence?
A defendant usually cannot appeal a sentence if the sentence was in accordance with a plea bargain. But if the defendant is found guilty in a trial, then he/she can appeal the sentence. Usually the grounds of appeal are that the sentence violates the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment law.
Can a defendant get a sentence commuted (reduced) in Las Vegas, Nevada?
Possibly, depending on the case. It requires applying to the Nevada Pardons Board. Learn more in our article on sentence commutation laws.
Arrested? There is help . . .
If you are facing criminal charges in Nevada, call Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys for a consultation. They may be able to get your charge dismissed so there is no sentence at all. Otherwise they will fight for the laxest sentence possible so you can continue with your life as soon as possible.
In California? Visit our page on sentencing hearings in California criminal cases.