Every criminal conviction in Nevada carries potential jail time. Even speeding tickets can result in up to six months behind bars. But it may be possible to keep defendants out of custody as long as they complete an “alternative sentencing” program while out on a suspended sentence.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys summarize how “alternative sentencing” in Nevada works. Scroll down to learn what alternative sentencing is, how to qualify for it, and the available programs in Las Vegas.
What is alternative sentencing in Las Vegas, Nevada?
Like it sounds, alternative sentencing is an alternative form of punishment that Nevada judges may impose in lieu of traditional penalties such as jail and fines. Alternative sentencing is meant to help defendants learn to make better choices so they will not resort to crimes in the future.
Alternative sentencing in Nevada usually takes the form of either:
- educational classes
- rehabilitation programs
- community service
Note that defendants who are accepted into alternative sentencing programs are required to pay for any expenses associated with them. Doing community service is free, but fees for rehab or classes may run into hundreds of dollars.
Note that Nevada now permits courts to offer diversion, which is a kind of pre-prosecution alternative sentencing. The defendant completes a program, and the court dismisses the charge. Best of all, defendants who cannot pay can still participate in the diversion program.
Are all defendants eligible for alternative sentencing in Las Vegas, Nevada?
No. Alternative sentencing is typically available only to defendants convicted of certain misdemeanors such as:
- drug possession
- simple battery
- battery domestic violence (with no major injuries)
- drunk driving (with no major injuries)
Note that Las Vegas also offers alternative sentencing for people convicted of a third DUI within seven years, which is a felony.
How can defendants get alternative sentencing in Las Vegas, Nevada?
Defendants (or their attorneys) usually need to request alternative sentencing from the judge in the case. And prosecutors sometimes offer alternative sentencing as part of a plea bargain.
In Municipal Court cases involving alcohol or drugs, defendants are first screened by the Las Vegas Municipal Court Evaluation Center. The judge will then consider their recommendations in deciding whether the defendant would benefit from alternative sentencing.
And in Municipal Court cases involving battery domestic violence, the court will order a Pre-Sentence Investigation of the defendant’s criminal history. The judge will then use this information to determine whether to grant alternative sentencing.
What alternative sentencing programs are available in Las Vegas, Nevada?
The following are some of the alternative sentencing programs offered by Las Vegas Municipal Court:
- Community Service: Court fines can usually be paid in cash or in community service. One hour of community service is the equivalent of ten dollars ($10) in court fines. There are many organizations defendants may volunteer at such as Help of Southern Nevada and Goodwill of Southern Nevada. Call (702) 229-6870 for more information.
- Work Program: This program allows defendants who cannot afford to pay a court-ordered fine to work off the fine instead. Call (702) 229-6870 for more information.
- Impulse Control Class: People convicted of battery against non-family members (with no substantial bodily harm) may take this course to learn about more constructive ways to handle conflict.
- First Offender Prostitution Program: People convicted of a first offense of prostitution may take this course to learn about the hazards of selling sex for money including STDs. Call (702) 229-2251 or (702) 229-2252 for more information.
- DUI School: DUI School is a standard penalty in all misdemeanor drunk driving cases. It includes information about alcoholism and ways to avoid getting behind the wheel while inebriated.
- Court Domestic Violence Program: People convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse can take this course to learn anger-management methods to help prevent a confrontation with family members, significant others or roommates.
- Traffic School: Judges will sometimes reduce speeding tickets and other moving violations down to an illegal parking ticket if the defendant completes traffic school. Call (702) 229-2244.
- Petty Larceny Program: This program is geared for people convicted of shoplifting less than $1,200 in merchandise. It teaches about how a simple shoplifting incident can end violently and how potential employers may not hire convicted shoplifters.
- Substance Abuse Program: This program helps educate defendants on the dangers of drug use and how to overcome addiction.
- House Arrest: In some cases, the judge may agree to allow a defendant to “serve time” at home instead of the Clark County Detention Center. With house arrest comes strict rules such as curfews and orders to avoid certain locations. The defendant also has to submit to electronic monitoring.
Clark County Justice Court provides nearly identical programs to the ones listed above. In addition they offer the following:
- Las Vegas DUI Court: DUI Court is an intensive alcohol rehabilitation program for people convicted of drunk driving without causing serious injuries. First- and second-time offenders may be eligible for Misdemeanor DUI Court, while third-time offenders may do Felony DUI Court.
- AIDS Awareness Counseling: This class is targeted to defendants convicted of prostitution to educate them on how AIDS may be transmitted by sexual activity.
Also see our article on discharge from probation (NRS 176A.850).