Douglas justice courts explore decision ramifications
Douglas County’s justices of the peace say they are prepared to implement a Nevada Supreme Court opinion requiring a judge to grant a trial in a first-time domestic battery case.
The ruling in Andersen v. Nevada was issued last week after the Supreme Court determined that a first domestic battery was a serious offense because a conviction results in the loss of the right to own a firearm.
While still a misdemeanor, the state Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that because of a 2015 change in Nevada law prohibiting people convicted of domestic battery from possessing a firearm, justice and municipal courts now had to permit a jury trial.
The Brady Bill provides a federal prohibition against those convicted of domestic battery from possession of a firearm.
Groups countering domestic violence said the ruling will make it more difficult for victims to be protected because of the cost and infrastructure barriers in the lower courts.
Both Tahoe Township Justice of the Peace Richard Glasson and East Fork Justice of the Peace Cassandra Jones said some of the infrastructure concerns may be justified.
However, they said both courts typically hold jury trials on civil cases.
“Justice courts have always had the option of allowing jury trials in all misdemeanor cases, not just serious criminal charges,” Glasson said. “The option is invoked by the request of the defendant, but nobody has exercised that option at Tahoe in at least the last 15 years.”
Before the Andersen case, Glasson said a judge could deny a defendant a jury trial for first domestic battery.
“The recent opinion makes it clear that our judges no longer have the discretion to deny such a request to defendants facing charges of battery that constitutes domestic violence,” Jones said. “However, a request for a jury trial has not been made in East Fork in years.”
Both justices agreed the burden will fall on the jury commissioner, court staff and the jury pool.
“The need to host juries on a weekly or monthly basis will further strain the limited space available at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Complex,” Jones said.
Jones said she was aware of the additional burden.
“We are taking immediate steps to maximize the use of our resources, and hopefully mitigate related burdens,” she said. “We hope to have new procedures in place in order to respond to the Andersen decision within the next 30 days.”
Jones and Glasson said that the right to a jury trial is critical to Nevada’s judicial system.
“Here in Douglas County, most attorneys prefer to have their cases heard by a judge instead of a jury,” Glasson said. “There’s an old saying that ‘A good lawyer understands the law, but a great lawyer understands the judge.’”