In Nevada, there are only two ways the District Attorney in any county can file a Felony or Gross Misdemeanor in District (Trial) Court. The first method is to present witnesses and evidence to the county Grand Jury. A grand jury is a group of about 18 local citizens appointed usually for 6 month terms which meet on designated days to hear evidence presented by the office of the District Attorney. If they find probable cause, then they issue a “True Bill” which is an Indictment in District Court. The main drawback of the Grand Jury process is that it is slow and can only handle a handful of cases per week. In a jurisdiction like Las Vegas, this severely limits what a Grand Jury can do to resolve the large number of cases which have to be processed every month.
The fallback and most common procedure is through the Preliminary Hearing in Justice Court. The vast majority of criminal filings come through this preliminary hearing system.
There are four basic levels of court jurisdiction in Nevada. At the top is the Supreme Court which is an appeals court. Below the Supreme Court is the newly established Court of Appeals, which is a lower appellate court. The Trial court in Nevada is District Court, where felonies and gross misdemeanors are tried before juries. The bottom level of court is Justice Court where a Judge called a Justice of the Peace presides over misdemeanors and Preliminary Hearings. Justice Court does not actually have jurisdiction to resolve or “adjudicate” a felony or gross misdemeanor. This is important to understand because it explains why a preliminary hearing is NOT a trial or a determination of guilt or innocence. During a Preliminary Hearing, the Justice Court judge hears evidence from the prosecution in order to determine if there is “slight or marginal” evidence to “bind” the case over for trial in District Court. In other words, The Justice Court Judge decides if there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and the defendant was the person who committed the crime. The advantage to the defendant in a Preliminary Hearing is that the defense lawyer can cross examine the states witnesses. It is important to understand that this is only a determination of probable cause, it is not a decision on guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is usually the decision of a jury in District Court.
In the real world, the vast majority of of cases never make it to a Preliminary Hearing and are negotiated before the need to present evidence before a Justice of the Peace.
If you or someone you know are facing a Preliminary Hearing or are involved in any stage of a criminal case, Call the lawyer who many people consider the best criminal lawyer in Las Vegas. Gabriel L. Grasso, 702-868-8866