Anybody who is charged with a crime in Nevada has the right to a bench trial, where the judge and not a jury delivers the verdict. You can elect to have a trial by jury instead only if you are facing more than six months in jail/prison or if you have been charged with battery domestic violence.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is a bench trial in Nevada?
- 2. Do I have a right to one?
- 3. Can I appeal the verdict?
- 4. Can I disqualify the judge?
- 5. What are bench trials like?
- 6. Can I request a jury trial?
- 7. Which trial is better?
1. What is a bench trial in Nevada?
In Nevada criminal cases, a bench trial (also called a “trial by court”) is a trial where the presiding judge renders the verdict and, if necessary, the sentence. No jury is involved.1
Bench trials are quicker than jury trials because there is no jury selection.
2. Do I have a right to one?
3. Can I appeal the verdict?
Yes. Bench trial guilty verdicts can be appealed to a higher court. For instance guilty verdicts in Las Vegas Justice Court may be appealed to Clark County District Court. Likewise guilty verdicts in Clark County District Court may be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.3
4. Can I disqualify the judge?
When the judge in your criminal case has a bias against you, ideally the judge would recuse themself, and the case would go to a disinterested judge. Though if a potentially biased judge refuses to step down, you may bring a motion to disqualify the judge alleging how their biases would prejudice the outcome.4
5. What are bench trials like?
Bench trials tend to be shorter than jury trials because there is no lengthy jury selection process. The various stages of a Nevada bench trial are:
- opening statements
- the prosecution and defense present evidence and call witnesses
- closing arguments
- judicial deliberation in judge’s chambers
- sentencing (upon a finding of guilt)
6. Can I request a jury trial?
At this time Nevada law recognizes the right to a trial by jury only if you are facing:
- more than six months of incarceration; or
- a battery domestic violence charge.
So if you are facing charges of just one misdemeanor (which carries a maximum sentence of six months), you can have a bench trial and not a jury trial unless the charge is for battery domestic violence.5
7. Which trial is better?
Jury trials are arguably fairer because “peers” are judging you rather than an authority figure who may compare the present case to past cases they presided over. On average, you stand a better chance of acquittal from a jury than a judge.
On the other hand, bench trials tend to be briefer and less costly than jury trials.
Jury trials are typically fairer to defendants than bench trials.