Nevada cities plan votes on misdemeanor jury trials issue

October 12, 2019 GMT

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two southern Nevada cities are considering adopting laws to sidestep a requirement to provide jury trials in misdemeanor domestic abuse cases where gun ownership rights could be affected.

The proposed ordinances due for votes in coming days in Henderson and North Las Vegas virtually mirror a proposed measure in Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. They would create a misdemeanor domestic violence offense that doesn’t require defendants who are found guilty to give up their guns.

“Given the status of existing law, the intent and purpose of introducing this ordinance is to continue to provide justice to and protect victims of domestic violence while ensuring that defendants continue to receive their due process,” North Las Vegas City Attorney Micaela Moore said in a statement.

The moves follow a unanimous Nevada Supreme Court ruling in September that called limiting state and U.S. constitutional rights to own a gun a serious penalty that a jury should decide. The ruling came in response to a 2015 Nevada state law that bans gun ownership by people found guilty of a misdemeanor such as domestic battery.

The decision led local officials to predict a steep increase in costs in a state where officials tallied more than 30,000 domestic violence arrests in 2017. More than 21,000 of those cases were in and around Las Vegas.

North Las Vegas has filed nearly 1,000 domestic violence cases since September 2018, according to city data.

Officials in Henderson said that city filed about 1,100 domestic violence cases last year but is unable to handle the jury trials.

“I think that our options are limited right now,” Marc Schifalacqua, a Henderson city prosecutor, told the Review-Journal. He said it might be years before the city can take on jury trials for all domestic violence cases.

Julie Proctor, executive director of the S.A.F.E. House domestic violence shelter, said delays due to a trial-setting backlog could be dangerous for domestic violence victims because the people accused of abusing them would be able to keep their guns. The delays also could influence victims’ decisions whether to testify, she said.

John Watkins, an attorney who worked on the case heard by the state Supreme Court, told the newspaper that cities shouldn’t approve ordinances that conflict with laws the Legislature has passed.

Schifalacqua said lawmakers should make clear rules and provide funds for jury trials in municipal courts. He said Henderson is still prosecuting domestic violence cases under state law, unlike Las Vegas and North Las Vegas. For defendants who plead not guilty and request a trial, he plans to amend criminal complaints to charge them under the new ordinance if it is approved.


Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com