Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Nevada
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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of conspiring with a hitman to have his sixth wife murdered during a staged burglary and then murdering the hitman, holding that the district court abused its discretion in admitting certain prior bad act evidence.At issue was the admission of events surrounding the death of Defendant's second wife. On appeal, Defendant argued that the evidence was inadmissible under Nev. Rev. Stat. 48.045(2). The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the danger of unfair prejudice substantially outweighed any probative value of the disputed evidence, and the district court abused its discretion by allowing its admission; and (2) the error in admitting the prior bad act evidence was not harmless. The Court remanded the matter for a new trial. View "Randolph v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of driving and/or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating liquor or alcohol resulting in substantial bodily harm entered upon an Alford plea, holding that the district court abused its discretion by denying Defendant's presentence motion to withdraw his guilty plea.When he entered his Alford plea, Defendant was informed that he faced a mandatory fine of up to $5,000 but was not informed that the fine would be at least $2,000. Defendant filed a presentence motion to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that he did not understand the consequences of his plea because he did not know the mandatory minimum fine for the offense was $2,000. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because a fine is a form of punishment, a defendant must be informed of any mandatory minimum fine in order to be fully informed of the direct consequences of a plea; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in denying Defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. View "Banka v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Appellant's petition to seal his criminal records stemming from a guilty plea to open or gross lewdness, a gross misdemeanor, holding that Appellant was entitled to the presumption in favor of sealing criminal records under Nev. Rev. Stat. 179.2445 and that no interested person provided evidence to rebut the presumption.In denying Appellant's petition to seal his criminal records, the district court concluded that the records could not be sealed under section 179.2445 because the underlying offense related to a crime against a child. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) misdemeanor open or gross lewdness is not an offense for which Defendant's records cannot be sealed; and (2) the presumption in favor of sealing Appellant's criminal records applied and was not rebutted. View "In re Petition of Aragon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of lewdness with a child under the age of sixteen, holding that a mistaken belief as to the victim's age is not a defense to the crime of lewdness with a child under the age of sixteen.Defendant was convicted of two counts of lewdness with a child under the age of sixteen. On appeal, Defendant argued that he had a reasonable, good-faith belief that the victim was eighteen years old and that the district court erred in preventing him from asserting a mistake-of-fact defense as to the victim's age. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in instructing the jury regarding this crime, holding that a mistaken belief as to a child's age is not a defense to the crime of lewdness with a child under the age of sixteen. View "Moore v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted these consolidated writ petitions filed by the Washoe County District Attorney's Office challenging the Second Judicial District Court's authority to compel it to participate in a record-sealing proceeding, holding that if a district attorney's office chooses not to participate in a proceeding, the district court lacks the authority to compel it to do so.In 2019, the Washoe County DA told the district court it would participate in record-sealing proceedings only when it wanted to oppose the petition. Three petitioners subsequently filed petitions to seal their criminal records. As required by Nev. Rev. Stat. 179.245(3), the district court notified the Washoe County DA that each petition had been filed. The court then ordered that the DA file a response or opposition to the petition. The Washoe County DA responded by filing three identical writ petitions challenging the district court's authority to compel it to participate in the record-sealing proceedings. The Supreme Court granted the petitions, holding that sections 179.245(3) and (4) do not require the Washoe County DA to participate in a record-sealing petition, and the district court otherwise lacked the authority compel the DA to participate. View "Washoe County District Attorney's Office v. Second Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court denying Appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that the plain language of Nev. Rev. Stat. 34.810(1)(a) excludes claims of ineffective assistance that do not allege a deficiency affecting the validity of the guilty plea, as well as claims alleging deficiencies that occur only after the entry of the guilty plea.Appellant was convicted of three counts of aggravated stalking. Appellant later filed a postconviction habeas petition, raising several claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel and appellate counsel. The district court dismissed nearly all of the claims, finding that they fell outside the scope of postconviction habeas claims allowed by section 34.810(1)(a). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that all of Appellant's ineffective assistance claims were outside the scope of cognizable claims under section 34.810(1)(a) and thus were properly dismissed. View "Gonzales v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of Judge Douglas Smith denying Defendant's post-trial motions for a new trial and to reconstruct the record after discovering a jury note that the trial judge, Senior Judge James Bixler, did not discuss in the presence of counsel, holding that Judge Smith improperly denied Defendant's request to have Judge Bixler decide the merits of his motions.After a jury convicted Defendant of robbery Defendant discovered the jury note at issue. In filing post-trial motions for a new trial and to reconstruct the record, Defendant requested that Judge Bixler preside over the motions. Judge Smith denied the request and heard the motions and denied them, finding that Judge Bixler did not remember the jury question or whether he presented the jury question to counsel. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) where Nev. Rev. Stat. 175.101 and caselaw clearly provide that the trial judge preside over post-trial motions unless the trial judge is absent, sick, deceased or disabled, Judge Smith erred when he declined Defendant's request for Judge Bixler to decide his post-trial motions; and (2) this Court declines to interpret the term "disability" under section 175.101 to include a judge's inability to remember a particular event that occurred during the proceeding. View "Harvey v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction, holding that Defendant waived his challenge under Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968), and that any other errors were harmless and did not amount to cumulative error warranting reversal.Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit burglary, attempted burglary while in possession of a firearm or deadly weapon, attempted murder with use of a deadly weapon, and battery with use of a deadly weapon resulting in substantial bodily harm. On appeal, Defendant argued that his Confrontation Clause rights under Bruton were violated when the district court admitted his codefendant's statements. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the record showed that Defendant waived his Bruton argument; (2) the district court abused its discretion in admitting certain testimony, but the error did not warrant reversal; and (3) there were multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct, but the errors did not warrant reversal. View "Turner v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting Defendant's motion to suppress drugs and drug paraphernalia police discovered while searching her backpack, holding that the district court properly determined that the search of Defendant's backpack was beyond the scope of a permissible search incident to arrest.After officers arrested Defendant, they placed her inside a patrol car, placed her backpack in the trunk of the patrol car, and transported her to jail. Thereafter, the officers searched Defendant's backpack. On appeal, the State argued that the contraband was discovered in a lawful search incident to arrest or, alternatively, would have been inevitably discovered in a lawful inventory of the backpack's contents. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the search incident to arrest was invalid; and (2) because the evidence would not have been discovered through a lawful inventory search, the evidence was not admissible under the inevitable-discovery doctrine. View "State v. Nye" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of guilty but mentally ill on charges of murder with the use of a deadly weapon and discharging a firearm at or into an occupied structure, holding that the district court improperly limited a psychiatric expert witness's testimony by not allowing her to opine about Defendant's mental state at the time of the offense.Defendant was indicted for fatally shooting his mother and for discharging a firearm into a neighbor's home. The jury found Defendant guilty but mentally ill on both charged offenses. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court should have allowed his psychiatric expert witness, Melissa Piasecki, M.D., to opine about his mental state. The Supreme Court agreed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding (1) the district court abused its discretion by preventing Dr. Piasecki from opining about Defendant's mental state for purposes of supporting his not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea; and (2) the error was not harmless. View "Pundyk v. State" on Justia Law