You’ve been charged with a crime or crimes (and perhaps arrested and incarcerated), and have found yourself involved in the beginnings of the criminal law process in Nevada. This can be a confusing and intimidating process, and it could result in serious consequences. It’s important that you understand what is happening and what to expect.
So, what happens now? At this point in the criminal court proceedings, an arraignment is typically what occurs next.
What is an Arraignment?
An arraignment is the first procedure that occurs in court, where you are informed of the charged against you. Before you are required to make your plea in court, you are entitled to know what the charges against you are. (NRS 174.015) The prosecutor is required to provide a copy of the complaint, information, or indictment. These are different types of charging documents that essentially do the same thing: list the charge or charges against you. Once given a chance to read the charging document with the charge or charges against you the court will request an entry of plea, the obvious choice is usually NOT GUILTY.
You have choices.
Pursuant to the Nevada Revised Statutes Section 174.035, the following are the pleas you may make a criminal defendant may enter one of the following pleas at the initial arraignment, subject to certain conditions:
- Not guilty
- Nolo Contendere (with the consent of the court)
- Not guilty by reason of insanityGuilty but mentally ill
Remember that when the State accuses you of committing a crime(s), it has the burden of proving you have committed that crime(s). You do not have to prove you didn’t do it. Rather, criminal defendants have the presumption of innocence until the State proves their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This means at the arraignment, you have the right to plead not guilty to the charge or charges. You have the right to change your plea at any time before the jury returns with its verdict, or in the case of a bench trial, before the judge enters his or her judgment.
What do these pleas mean?
Nolo contendere means “no contest” in Latin. With a no contest plea, while you don’t actually admit guilt you are not contesting the charges and the Court will find you guilty. In certain situations, a No Contest plea may be an advantage in avoiding civil liability after the resolution of your criminal case. Generally, guilty pleas and verdicts may be used against you in other proceedings, such as a civil lawsuit by the victim in your criminal case. For example, say you were arrested for a DUI which caused an accident. If you pleaded guilty, the victim in the accident could use your plea against you if he or she decides to sue you for damages in a civil lawsuit. If you pleaded no contest, the victim may not be able to use the plea as evidence in the civil lawsuit but this can vary depending on the plea and the charges. For Immigration consequences, a no contest plea may be worse than a plea of guilty.
Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity
Although generally rare, you can enter a plea of not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity in the alternative to any other plea. This means, for example, you can plead “not guilty” and “not guilty by reason of insanity” at the same time. The jury can enter a verdict of one or the other, not both. You can choose to enter this plea at any time up until twenty-one (21) days before your trial date. NRS § 174.035). Unlike the elements of the offense with which you are charged, the burden is on you to prove that your insanity defense by a “preponderance of the evidence.” Preponderance of the evidence means that it is more likely than not, or 51%. To succeed with this defense, you will need to establish that:
- Due to a disease or defect of the mind, you were in a delusional state at the time the alleged offense was committed AND
- Due to this delusional state, you did not (1) know or understand the nature and capacity of your act OR (2) appreciate that your conduct was against the law.
Guilty but Mentally Ill
As with not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity, you must plead guilty but mentally ill at least twenty-one (21) days before you trial is set to begin. Again, you have the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence that you have a mental illness. You will need evidence of your mental illness, such as medical records and possibly even expert testimony.
The court has the authority to reject guilty-but-mentally-ill pleas. (NRS § 174.035). If it rejects your plea, the court will enter a not guilty plea for you. Note that pleading guilty-but-mentally-ill still subjects you to criminal punishment/penalties and civil liability.
You may also plead guilty either “straight up” or via a guilty plea agreement, which is discussed below. To plead straight up means that you are pleading guilty to the charge or charges listed in the complaint/information/indictment without the prosecutor agreeing to do anything in exchange. Whether and how to plead is a criminal defendants decision to make. However, before you decide to plead guilty to the charge or charges, you should consult with an attorney.
The prosecutor may choose to offer you a negotiation, also known as a plea bargain. This is an agreement between you and the prosecution that typically involves offers you pleading to a lesser charge, or reduced sentence, and/or other conditions in return for pleading guilty, guilty but mentally ill, or no contest. The plea agreement generally has no effect until you enter your plea in court and the Court accepts it and even then, the Court is not required to follow sentencing recommendations by the prosecution and the defense but generally they will.
Other Elements of an Arraignment
Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to an attorney if their charge or charges place them at risk going to jail or prison once convicted. If the prosecutor announces at the arraignment that he or she is not seeking jail time on a misdemeanor, you do not have a right to a court-appointed attorney. You are always free to hire your own attorney if you can afford one no matter what penalties you are facing. If your exposure is jail or prison time and you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint the Public Defender to represent you.
If the defendant has been incarcerated since their arrest, the court should also address the issue of bail at the arraignment. While there are certain limitations, the judge has the discretion to set bail at an amount he or she believes is reasonable. What is reasonable depends on the circumstances of your arrest, the charge or charges you are facing, your criminal record, and whether you appear to be a risk to the community or a flight risk. The judge may release you on house arrest or on your own recognizance, which means you will be released from jail without having to post bail. The judge may impose some restrictions on you, like staying away from the alleged victim or certain business.
Finally, at the arraignment, the court will set future dates for your proceedings.
How We Can Help
Facing an arraignment and the proceedings that follow can be a daunting prospect, and one that you should not have to face alone. Any criminal proceeding can have serious and lasting consequences and the arraignment can set the tone for the rest of the case. If you are in custody and unable to afford an unreasonable bail, having an attorney appear with you indicates to the court that you are taking your case seriously. If you are not in custody, your attorney can appear at the initial arraignment and enter the plea for you. This means you do not have to needlessly take time off work or travel to the court if you live elsewhere.
The Las Vegas-based law offices of criminal defense attorney Martin Hart offer a place you can turn to with confidence for the help you need. Martin Hart is an experienced criminal defense attorney who is committed to serving you to the best of his ability. He provides quality services that include aggressively pursuing a solution to your legal dilemma, as well as prioritizing his attorney-client relationship with you. Martin Hart has the unique advantage of having a background in both criminal prosecution and criminal defense. So if you or someone you know in the Las Vegas area needs assistance with an arraignment or related issue, please call Criminal Defense Attorney Martin Hart at 702-380-HART (4278) for your FREE consultation.