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CRIMINAL CHARGES: LAS VEGAS

JUSTICE COURT

Basic Information and Frequently Asked Questions

I represent people accused of committing criminal offenses in every court in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada, including Henderson and North Las Vegas. But Las Vegas Justice Court is where most of my cases originate. Las Vegas Justice Court is where an accused person will make his initial appearance, where his bail will be set, and where his case will be negotiated pursuant to a plea deal or go to trial (or preliminary hearing) in front of a Justice of the Peace (Justice Court Judge).

Many of my clients have questions about the Justice Court process. What are the different hearings? When does the defendant need to appear in court? How long does it take to finish a case and get it closed? Who will be the sentencing judge? Can I be sent back to jail after bailing out? In this article, I will answer these questions as well as provide other basic information about Las Vegas Justice Court. I will focus on Las Vegas Justice Court, but the information in this article applies generally to all of the Justice Courts in Clark County, including the rural courts. This article does not apply to the local municipal courts, like Las Vegas Municipal Court. If you don't know the difference between the Justice Courts and the Municipal Courts, reading this article might help you.

LAS VEGAS JUSTICE COURT: JURISDICTION

Is my case in Justice Court?

"Jurisdiction" refers to the types of cases that a court handles. Las Vegas Justice Court has jurisdiction over both felony and misdemeanor criminal charges that arise out of alleged crimes committed in Clark County, Nevada. All felony offenses in Las Vegas start out in Las Vegas Justice Court as well as all misdemeanors that were committed outside the incorporated part of Las Vegas.

So before you learn about Las Vegas Justice Court, you need to know if your court is actually in Justice Court. Here are a few ways to help you figure out if your case is in Las Vegas Justice Court.

What does your paperwork say?

This might sound obvious, but your paperwork should indicate what court you are in. This paperwork might be a temporary custody record, a criminal complaint, a citation, or release papers you may have received from a bail bondsman. You might see the court indicated by a checked box on a temporary custody record or citation. There is a lot of information printed on these court documents, so it's easy to overlook. But what if you don't have your paperwork?

Is the alleged crime a felony or misdemeanor?

The biggest confusion I see from my clients is whether their cases are in Las Vegas Justice Court or Las Vegas Municipal Court. So here is a quick way to determine whether you are in Municipal Court or Justice Court. If your charge is a felony, you're in Justice Court. Municipal Court only handles misdemeanors. But what if your case is a misdemeanor? Read on.

Where did you go to jail?

One way to figure out what court you're in is to remember which jail you were taken to after you were arrested. If you were arrested and went to Clark County Detention Center, the jail on Casino Center Boulevard, you're in Las Vegas Justice Court. If you were taken to City Jail on Stewart and Mojave, you're in Las Vegas Municipal Court.

What is your case number?

Another way to tell which court you're in is to look at your case number if you have one. The format for a case in Las Vegas Justice Court is something like this: 14m12345x (this is a fake case number used for illustration). The first two numbers ("14") indicate the year the case was filed. So this case was filed in 2014. The letter "m" indicates that this is a misdemeanor case. If the case had gross misdemeanor or felony charges, the "m" would be replaced by an "f". The next five numbers are given to cases chronologically as they are filed in Justice Court in a given year, so the first misdemeanor case for 2014 would be 14m00001x and the fifteen thousandth case would be 14m015000x. The "x" indicates that this is a single defendant case. In other words, only one person is charged in this criminal complaint. If two or more people are charged in the same complaint in Las Vegas Justice Court, the last part of the case number would be an "a," "b," "c," and so on, so the case number would be something like 14m12345a, 14m12345b, or14m12345c, if there were three co-defendants.

LAS VEGAS JUSTICE COURT: BASIC INFORMATION

Where is Las Vegas Justice Court Located?

Las Vegas Justice Court has several departments, but all of them are located in the same building: the Regional Justice Center ("RJC") located in Downtown Las Vegas. The address is 200 Lewis Avenue (the intersection of Lewis Avenue and Third Street). The RJC is most easily accessible from the US 95/93, Downtown Las Vegas Exit, or on I-15, the Charleston Exit. If you want to park reasonably close to the courthouse you should plan to park in metered parking. Remember to enter on the north side of the building (the south entrance is for attorneys) and be prepared to wait in line to pass through a security checkpoint that includes a metal detector scan.

The several Las Vegas Justice Court departments are located on the first, sixth, seventh, and eighth floors of the RJC. But keep in mind that there is no correlation between department number and floor number. Las Vegas Justice Court Department 1 is not located on the first floor, for instance. There is also a difference between courtroom number and department number, so don't confuse the two. If you have paperwork that explains that your courtroom is courtroom 7B, that means your case is on the seventh floor, courtroom B, which currently happens to be Las Vegas Justice Court Department 11 (Judge Goodman). Las Vegas Justice Court Department 8 (Judge Zimmerman) is currently on the eighth floor (courtroom 8D), but that's a coincidence.

Court assignments and courtrooms change periodically, but a guide by the elevator will tell you what floor your courtroom is on. Keep in mind, several other courts are located in the RJC, including Las Vegas Municipal Court and Clark County District Court, so if you ask for directions to a specific court at the information desk, make sure to specify that you are looking for Las Vegas Justice Court.

The Las Vegas Justice Court Clerk is located on the second floor of the RJC. The Justice Court Clerk is sort of like the front desk for all the Las Vegas Justice Court Departments. The Justice Court Clerk's Office is where all motions in Las Vegas Justice Court are filed and where defendants can pay court-ordered fines. The Clerk can also provide defendants with information/records for their criminal cases including court minutes and case dispositions.

Las Vegas Justice Court Prosecutors

Whether your case involves misdemeanor or felony criminal charges, the prosecutor will be the Clark County District Attorney. The current Clark County District Attorney is Steve Wolfson. The prosecutors who work under Mr. Wolfson are called Deputy District Attorneys or "Chief Deputy District Attorneys." Currently there are about 160 Deputies and Chiefs working under Mr. Wolfson.

So who will be your specific prosecutor? Technically, Steve Wolfson is the prosecutor for all criminal cases in Las Vegas Justice Court. But one or more Deputy and Chief DA will likely handle every decision that pertains to your case. DDAs are placed into groups, headed by Chiefs, depending on either the Justice Court Department or specialty case type. For instance, most cases randomly assigned to Las Vegas Justice Court Department 1 will be handled by the DA team assigned to that department, unless the case type is one that is handled by a specialty team, like insufficient funds (bad check) cases. Team assignments change regularly.

Departments and Judges

There are several Las Vegas Justice Court Departments. Justice Court handles both criminal and civil cases. Currently, eleven Las Vegas Justice Court Departments handle at least some criminal cases. These departments are each run by a single Justice Court Judge, called a "Justice of the Peace."

All criminal cases are randomly assigned to a Justice Court department and Judge, except for the Justice Court Departments and Judges that currently have a "specialty court" assignment. The two types of specialty cases are DUI and Domestic Violence cases. DUI cases are currently assigned randomly to one of two courts: Las Vegas Justice Court 9 (Judge Bonaventure) and Las Vegas Justice Court 13 (Judge Baucum), and most Domestic Violence cases are currently assigned to Las Vegas Justice Court Department 10 (Judge Tobiasson).

LAS VEGAS JUSTICE COURT: HEARINGS AND PROCEDURE

Hearings in Las Vegas Justice Court

There are many different kinds of hearings in Las Vegas Justice Court. First, let's talk about what a "hearing" actually is. A hearing means your case is on the court's "calendar" for a particular date and time and for a particular purpose. So a hearing starts when the court clerk hands the judge a file from the court's daily calendar and the judge takes the file and "calls" the case by stating the case name and number on the "record." The "record" in Justice Court is everything stated in open court as transcribed by the department's court reporter, minus any unrecorded "bench conferences" between prosecutors, the judge, and defense counsel. With few exceptions, criminal court hearings are open to the public. Read about the different types of Justice Court hearings below.

Arraignment/Initial Appearance/48 and 72 Hour Hearing/Bail Hearing

Technically, an arraignment is the defendant's initial appearance in court, where he receives his formal written charges (in the form of a criminal complaint) and enters a plea of not guilty. But in Las Vegas Justice Court, there are two types of initial appearances that should be discussed: the 48 hour hearing and the 72 hour hearing.

The first hearing in Las Vegas Justice Court, for people who have been arrested and incarcerated in Clark County Detention Center, is the 48 Hour Hearing. But that hearing is "in camera," meaning that the judge reviews the charges "in chambers" (not in open court) and decides whether to adjust standard bail for the charges.

The first true in-court hearing for defendants who are in custody (incarcerated temporarily in Clark County Detention Center) is the 72 Hour Hearing. This hearing, for defendants who are in custody, is the initial appearance or the initial arraignment. At this hearing, the defendant receives the criminal complaint and enters a plea of not guilty (this part is the arraignment). Then, at this same hearing, the Judge decides whether to adjust (hopefully lower) the bail or release the defendant without bail (called an "own recognizance release" or "OR release.")

If you bail out of CCDC or you were never arrested in the first place (because you got a misdemeanor citation or the DA asked for a summons in lieu of an arrest warrant), then your first appearance in Las Vegas Justice Court is an initial arraignment (initial appearance), which is sometimes coded by the Justice Court Clerks as "return court date." If you have an attorney, in almost all instances he can appear at this hearing without you, which is good news for defendants who live or have moved out of state.

Plea Negotiations

After the initial appearance, the next hearing will either be a status check on negotiations or a trial/preliminary hearing. If the next hearing set is a status check on negotiations, this implies that the case may be negotiated (i.e., a plea agreement may be reached between the parties). If your case is negotiated for a misdemeanor, you'll stay in Justice Court. If your plea deal contemplates a felony, gross misdemeanor, or "wobbler" plea, then you will "waive up" to District Court and proceed to sentencing in front of a District Court Judge. If the case does not get negotiated, then you will proceed to a preliminary hearing (if your charge is a felony or gross misdemeanor) or trial (if your case is a misdemeanor).

Trial

A trial in Las Vegas Justice Court is a "bench trial," meaning it's done in front of a judge, not a jury. Like any trial, in a bench trial the prosecutor calls and questions witnesses and the defense gets to cross examine (question) all of these witnesses. When the prosecutor calls all their witnesses and presents all its evidence the defense may call any witnesses it wants. In a bench trial in Justice Court, Tthe judge hears the evidence then makes a decision that same day, determining whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. If the judge finds you not guilty (acquits you) then you go free. If the judge finds you guilty, then he gets to determine the sentence, which could include jail time, fines, community service, and more.

Preliminary Hearing

If you have a felony or gross misdemeanor charge and you don't enter into a plea deal, then your last stop in Las Vegas Justice Court will be preliminary hearing. The format of the preliminary hearing is like a trial. The prosecutor calls witnesses, the defense attorney can cross examine those witnesses, then the defense may call any witnesses he has. Then the judge makes a decision. But the decision isn't "guilty" or "not guilty." Instead, the judge determines whether the charges will be dismissed or if the case will be "bound over" to district court to set a jury trial. Specifically, at the close of a preliminary hearing, the judge determines whether the prosecutor has presented enough evidence for the case to continue. Technically, the prosecutor must show "probable cause" for the case to continue. "Probable cause" means evidence that a crime occurred and that the accused person "probably" committed the crime. This sounds like a fairly high standard, but Nevada case law says that all the prosecution must show for the case to be sent to District Court for trial is "slight or marginal evidence" of guilt.

Status Check on Requirements

If you work out a plea deal or are found guilty of a misdemeanor, you most likely have to pay some fine, complete community service, attend court-ordered counseling, or complete other requirements imposed by the Justice Court Judge.

A status check on requirements is usually set out at least a few months from the time the defendant enters into a plea negotiation. At this hearing, the defendant (usually represented by an attorney) presents proof to the court that he/she has completed the Court's orders. If progress is satisfactory, then another hearing is set. This goes on until all court-ordered requirements are completed and the case is closed. Generally, a defendant who is compliant (making satisfactory progress on requirements) doesn't need to show up at these status hearings.

If a defendant does not complete the ordered requirements or picks up new criminal charges and then doesn't show up at the next hearing, the Judge may issue a bench warrant.

Bench Warrant Return

When you no-show a court date in Justice Court, the judge will issue a bench warrant. A bench warrant is an order to law enforcement to arrest a person for failing to appear in court. When a Judge issues a bench warrant, this may be a "no bail" bench warrant or bail may be set at some other amount. Sometimes, if the only requirement left in the case is payment of a fine, the Judge may set bail in the amount of the fine, cash only, no bond.

So when a bench warrant is issued, the defendant can post bail or bond to "quash" or "recall" (get rid of) the warrant—if the bench warrant is not set as "no bail." But if you come into contact with law enforcement while the bench warrant is active, you'll be taken to jail and brought before your Judge on a bench warrant return.

At a bench warrant return, you will ordinarily be facing a high likelihood of being sentenced to suspended jail time (or contempt jail time if your case wasn't resolved with suspended jail time).

Motion Hearings

A motion is simply a request that the court do something. A motion can be oral or written, but a hearing can only be scheduled for a written motion. There are many kinds of written hearings in Las Vegas Justice Court. These commonly include motion to quash bench warrant, motion to file amended criminal complaint, motion to reduce bail, motion to remand defendant into custody, motion to exonerate bond, motion to consolidate cases, motion to withdraw as counsel, and many others.

JUSTICE COURT: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Who will be my judge?

If your case is in Las Vegas Justice Court, then your judge is the Justice of the Peace for the department that your case was assigned to. If your charge is a misdemeanor, you will keep your one judge for the duration of your case.

But what if your case is bound over to District Court? Who will be your sentencing Judge? With a few exceptions, each Justice Court department tracks up randomly to one of two District Court departments. So for instance, Justice Court Department 1 "tracks up" to two District Courts: Department 25 and Department 20. Below is a table listing the departments in Las Vegas Justice Court and the District Court departments they track up to. So for most felony cases in Las Vegas Justice Court, you won't be able to tell who your District Court Judge will be until you waive up or are bound over to District Court, but you can narrow down the possibilities to one of two Judges.

Las Vegas Justice Court

tracks to

District Court

LVJC1 (Judge Lippis)

DC25 (Judge Delaney) or DC20 (Judge Tao)

LVJC2 (Judge Sciscento)

DC10 (Judge Walsh) DC24 (Judge Bixler)

LVJC3 (Judge Marshall)

DC18 (Judge Barker) or DC12 (Judge Leavitt)

LVJC6 (Judge Kephart)

DC23 (Judge Miley) or DC2 (Judge Vega)

LVJC8 (Judge Zimmerman)

DC11 (Judge Gonzalez) or DC15 (Judge Silver)

LVJC11 (Judge Goodman)

DC8 (Judge Smith) or DC3 (Judge Herndon)

LVJC12 (Judge Sullivan)

DC5 (Judge Ellsworth) or DC 21 (Judge Adair)

LVJC14 (Judge Hafen)

DC6 (Judge Cadish) or DC17 (Judge Villani)

LVJC10 (Judge Tobiasson)

All District Courts

LVJC9 (Judge Bonaventure)

All District Courts

LVJC13 (Judge Baucum)

All District Courts

Do I have to show up for court?

If you have a case in Las Vegas Justice Court, you have to show up for all your court appearances, but if you have an attorney representing you, you don't have to show up for most court appearances. In some cases, having an attorney means that you won't ever have to personally appear in court. Most people ask whether they have to appear personally at their initial appearance/arraignment in Las Vegas Justice Court. Check with your attorney, but in most instances, you won't have to go to your initial court appearance if you are not in custody and you have an attorney.

How long will my case last?

That depends on the nature and seriousness of your charges. Sometimes a simple misdemeanor can be handled in a matter of weeks (or less) from your initial court appearance. Even some felony charges can be handled and disposed of favorably in a very short period of time. On the other hand, some felony charges take much longer to resolve favorably. In these cases, your case will probably not be resolved in Las Vegas Justice Court. Instead, you may find yourself headed to District Court to either resolve your case or go to jury trial. If your case takes this path, the matter may not be resolved for a year or more.

Can I go to court before my scheduled arraignment date?

Yes, in many instances. If you bailed out of jail (or were otherwise released) and you have an upcoming court date months in the future, you can get on calendar in Las Vegas Justice Court early, so long as the District Attorney has filed a criminal complaint, because as soon as a complaint is filed you can be arraigned.

If you are arrested or get a citation, the arresting police officers are basically just referring criminal charges to the District Attorney for prosecution. Cops don't actually charge anyone with criminal offenses. That's a common misconception. Cops just investigate crimes and refer charges to the prosecutor. It is then the District Attorney's job to decide what formal charges to pursue by filing a formal charging document called a criminal complaint. When you are arrested and bail out, you will receive an "out-of-custody" court date, which is often several months in the future. The time between your arrest and the scheduled future court appearance is supposed to allow the District Attorney time to determine what charges to file (or whether to file charges at all).

But oftentimes the District Attorney will actually file the criminal complaint early—sometimes several weeks or even months before the scheduled arraignment. Once the complaint is filed, there is no need to wait until the scheduled future court date. You can go into court, enter a plea of not guilty, and get the case moving. So if you don't want to wait and you want to get your case behind you ask quickly as possible, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney about placing your case on calendar for an early arraignment. In most departments in Las Vegas Justice Court it will only take two business days to place your case on calendar for an early arraignment.

What are my charges?

If you were arrested, the charges you were booked into jail on are not necessarily the charges you will face in Las Vegas Justice Court. Your charges will be contained in the criminal complaint, the District Attorney's formal charging document. If you don't have a criminal complaint because you didn't go to court yet, you might try searching the Las Vegas Justice Court Records database. You may find that a complaint has been filed. Keep in mind, the Justice Court database uses certain notations that might be confusing. For instance, a "999" notation is used to indicate charges that were referred by police but not filed by the District Attorney. Charges are listed in a general way as they appear in Nevada law, which sometimes leads to confusion. So, for instance, if a person is arrested and charged with possessing cocaine with the intent to sell, this charge will be denoted in the Justice Court database like this: "Poss to sell sch I/II, flntrzpm/GHB," which leads many people to believe, incorrectly, that they have been charged with possessing GHB (known as a "date rape" drug). The denotation for the Justice Court database only indicates generally that the person has been charged with possessing either a schedule I or II controlled substance or GHB with the intent to sell. The charge denotation doesn't actually indicate what controlled substance the defendant possessed.

Can you help me?

I have represented more people in Las Vegas Justice Court than I can remember, so if you are facing criminal charges in Justice Court, I can help you. I can't guarantee any particular outcome to a case, but if I represent you, I will do whatever I can to resolve your charges quickly and favorably. Contact me right now and I can give you an honest assessment of your case. Consultations are free.

By Michael Pandullo

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