Court-ordered community service is a standard penalty in many Las Vegas Justice Court and Las Vegas Municipal Court criminal cases. Defendants can usually serve their hours at any registered non-profit organization in Clark County.
Providing services to the community is also a way for defendants convicted of a crime to avoid paying a fine: Every hour of volunteering reduces the fine by $10.
Defendants must be careful to complete all the required hours by the due date the judge sets. Otherwise, the judge may order them to jail.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is community service?
- 2. When is it imposed?
- 3. Can I serve instead of pay fines?
- 4. What are the procedures?
- 5. Can I get an extension?
- 6. What if I do not finish?
- 7. Where can I serve?
- 8. What if I do not live in Nevada?
It is a mandatory penalty in certain Nevada criminal cases. These defendants must volunteer for a predetermined number of hours at a verified and registered non-profit service agency (501(c)(3)).
Common examples of volunteer opportunities to the Las Vegas community include:
- gathering trash by the side of the highway
- handing out food at soup kitchens or food banks
- cleaning animal shelters
Court-ordered volunteering requires physical and manual labor. But light duties should be available for defendants with physical limitations. Defendants do not get paid for their hours.
Note that defendants are not allowed to complete more than eight (8) hours a day. Even if a defendant is ordered to work nine hours, he/she will need to complete them over no less than two days. It makes no difference if the defendant is willing to work more than eight hours a day.1
Community service work is a mandatory penalty for several Nevada crimes, including:
- Battery domestic violence (NRS 200.485)
- Graffiti or property defacement (NRS 206.330)
- Damage to property used for purpose of religion, burial, memorializing the dead, education, or transportation (NRS 206.125)
- Theft of scrap metal or utility property (NRS 205.267)
- Removal, damage, or destruction of certain property to obtain scrap metal (NRS 202.582).2
As discussed in the next section, defendants can often opt to do service hours instead of paying a fine.
Las Vegas judges often permit defendants in criminal cases to complete volunteer work instead of paying a fine. One hour of service equals $10 in fines.3 Therefore, a defendant sentenced to pay a $100 fine can usually do 10 hours of service instead. Or this same defendant could do a combination, such as
- paying $50 and
- doing 5 hours of service.
Community service is an opportunity for defendants in criminal cases who may have trouble paying their fine to complete their sentence requirement through service. In short, defendants can pay with hours instead of dollars.
The period of community service must not exceed the following:
The Las Vegas judge’s clerk will give a “referral” to defendants after the judge sentences them to complete community service (or allows them to volunteer in lieu of fines). These defendants must then take the referral and report to the Clark County Community Service Program window at the Regional Justice Center, located at 200 Lewis Avenue, Las Vegas, NV 89101:
For defendants in criminal cases, the Program window is located on the second floor (the phone number is 702-671-3201). For defendants in traffic cases, the Program window is located on the first floor (the phone number is 702-671-3283).
Defendants are charged a $25 assessment fee when they first sign up. However, the defendant can ask the judge to waive this fee. The judge is more likely to waive it if the defendant is choosing to do service in lieu of paying a fine.
The Program will supply defendants with timesheets that that must be signed by an agency representative to verify their hours worked. It is the defendant’s responsibility to contact the agency and set up dates and times to come in.
When defendants complete their service hours, it also is their responsibility to return the timesheet to the Program no later than 5 business days before the next court date. The Program will then verify with the agency that the timesheet is accurate.4 Defendants should also give a copy to their attorney.
Nevada defendants are required to complete all their required volunteering hours prior to the date that the judge chooses during the sentencing hearing.
When defendants realize they need more time to complete the hours, their attorneys should contact the prosecutor as soon as possible. If the prosecutor agrees to an extension, then the judge is more likely to grant an extension at the next court hearing. In some cases, the defense attorney may even request that the court schedule a special court hearing expressly for the purpose of asking for an extension.
The one thing defendants should never do is to wait until the court appearance when the service hours are due to ask for an extension. The judge may still grant the extension, but the judge is under no obligation to. As explained in the next section, failing to finish serving community service by the ordered due date may cause the defendant to be remanded to jail.
The Nevada penalty for failing to complete required community service hours depends on what conditions the judge originally imposed during the sentencing hearing.
Example: Jaden pleads guilty to a first count of misdemeanor battery domestic violence. The judge tells Jaden that he will reduce the charge to disorderly conduct if Jaden successfully completes 48 hours of volunteering, pays a fine, goes to counseling, and avoids more arrests while the case is open. The judge also orders a six-month “suspended sentence,” which means that Jaden will do no jail time as long as he completes all the terms by the next court date.
At the next court date, Jaden reveals he did everything the judge asked except the service. Since Jaden failed to complete all the terms, the judge may convict him for battery domestic violence instead of disorderly conduct. The judge may also “un-suspend” the jail sentence and send him to jail for six months.
In the above example, it does not matter that Jaden completed nearly all of the requirements. The judge has the discretion to impose the total punishment even if just one sentencing requirement was not met.
The Las Vegas Community Service Program currently recognizes more than 120 public and private registered non-profit 501C-3 service agencies in Clark County. Some of these include:
- Adopt a Rescue Pet
- Assistance League
- Baby’s Bounty
- Big Paw Rescue
- Blind Center of Nevada
- Can You Identify Me?
- The Churchill Foundation
- Dress for Success Southern Nevada
- F.E.A.T. of Southern Nevada
- Friends of Red Rock Canyon
- Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada
- Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary
- The Key Foundation
- Las Vegas Rescue Mission
- Ronald McDonald House Charities Greater Las Vegas
- Rotary Club of Las Vegas
- Safe Nest
- The Shade Tree
- Sunshine Nevada
Defendants must complete their service hours at an organization that the Program approves of. If the defendant wishes to complete their hours elsewhere, they should get permission from the Program first to make sure their hours will be counted.
Las Vegas criminal judges usually permit their non-Clark County resident defendants to complete any service requirements in whatever city or state they live. But these defendants — or their attorneys — first need to ask the judge’s permission during open court.
In addition, defendants should contact the Las Vegas Community Service Court Program to make sure it approves of the organization in their hometown where they want to serve (scroll up to section 4 for the Program’s phone numbers).
- Community Service Program FAQ, Las Vegas Justice Court.
- In addition, “johns” who are sentenced for the Nevada crime of prostitution (NRS 201.354) have the option of doing service in lieu of paying the civil fine. Repeat-prostitution offenders who trespass at a casino in violation of NRS 207.203 may also do service instead of paying a fine. And courts may order certain probation violators to do service pursuant to NRS 209.4295.
- See Letter from Kim Kampling, Court Administrator/Deputy Clerk of Las Vegas Justice Court; NRS 176.087
- See note 1.