Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Nevada
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part Defendant's conviction of ten counts of sexual conduct between a teacher and student and two counts of first-degree kidnapping, holding sexual conduct between school employees and students who are old enough to consent to sexual conduct is not a predicate offense for first-degree kidnapping, and therefore, Defendant's first-degree kidnapping convictions cannot stand.Appellant, a high school history teacher, developed a sexual relationship with a seventeen-year-old female student. The sexual conduct was consensual, but consensual sexual conduct between a teacher and a seventeen-year-old student is a crime under Nev. Rev. Stat. 201.540. Defendant was charged with ten counts of violating section 201.540 and two counts of first-degree kidnapping because on two occasions Defendant transported the student to hotels to have sex. The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's first-degree kidnapping convictions, holding that a violation of section 201.540 is not a predicate offense for first-degree kidnapping. View "Lofthouse v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court accepted questions certified by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and answered that the identity of a substance is an element of the crime articulated in Nev. Rev. Stat. 453.337 such that each schedule I or II controlled substance simultaneously possessed with the intent to sell constitutes a separate offense.Section 453.337 prohibits a person from possessing, for the purpose of sale, flunitrazepam, gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or any schedule I and II controlled substance. Defendant pleaded guilty to being a deported alien found unlawfully in the United States. The federal district court imposed a 16-level sentencing enhancement due to Defendant's previous conviction in Nevada for violating section 453.337. Defendant appealed, arguing that his section 453.337 conviction did not qualify as a predicate drug trafficking offense under the federal sentencing guidelines. The Ninth Circuit concluded that no controlling Nevada precedent clearly resolved whether a substance's identity is an element of the crime described in section 453.337 and filed its certified questions with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that the identity of a substance is an element of the crime set forth in section 453.337. View "Figueroa-Beltran v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction, holding that, based on the record, it was more likely than not that the State used a peremptory challenge for impermissible reasons in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), necessitating a new trial.Defendant faced multiple charges related to a shooting. During jury selection, the State exercised one of its peremptory challenges to remove an African-American veniremember. Defendant made a Batson objection claiming that the peremptory challenge was based on the juror's race. The district court summarily overruled the objection without making any specific findings or explaining its reasoning. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of conviction, holding (1) the record belied the State's nondemeanor explanations for using a peremptory challenge on the juror, indicating that the explanations were pretextual; and (2) because the district court did not fully engage in the inquiry and consideration required at step three in the Batson analysis, the court clearly erred in denying Defendant's Batson objection. View "Matthews v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction for sexual assault of a minor under sixteen years of age, holding that the district court erred in instructing the jury, and the jury instruction errors were not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.On appeal, Defendant argued that that the district court erred by instructing the jury that the age of consent to sexual penetration is sixteen years old and that consent is not a defense to the crime of sexual assault of a minor under the age of sixteen. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the victim's age, by itself, was not dispositive of any element of sexual assault, and therefore, the district court's instructions as to the victim's age were incorrect statements of law; and (2) the district court erred by rejecting Defendant's proposed inverse jury instruction; and (3) the district court's jury instruction errors were not harmless. View "Honea v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed one of Defendant's convictions for robbery but affirmed the judgment of conviction in all other respects after adopting factors to guide the Court in deciding whether to consider an error's harmlessness despite the State's failure to argue it, holding that the district court's error in denying Defendant's motion to suppress was harmless.Defendant was found guilty of two counts of robbery with the use of a deadly weapon, murder with the use of a deadly weapon, and other crimes. The jury sentenced Defendant to death. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress statements he made during an interview with detectives before his arrest. The Supreme Court concluded that the district court did err by denying Defendant's motion to suppress. The Court then adopted three factors to help determine whether the Court should consider an error's harmlessness when the State has not argued harmlessness in a death penalty case. After weighing those factors, the Court held (1) sua sponte harmless error review was appropriate in this matter, and the complained-of error was harmless; (2) one of the convictions for robbery was not supported by sufficient evidence; and (3) no other issue warranted relief. View "Belcher v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction for murder in the first degree but affirmed his remaining convictions, holding that the district court abused its discretion by declining to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter.Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, child abuse, neglect or endangerment, and ownership or possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. During trial, defense counsel argued that Defendant shot the victim in a sudden heat of passion and that the killing was not premeditated. The district court, however, refused to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter, concluding that the evidence did not establish that offense. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of conviction as to the murder charge and remanded for a new trial on that charge, holding (1) the circumstantial evidence suggested the killing occurred in a sudden heat of passion upon provocation, and therefore, the district court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on Defendant's defense theory of voluntary manslaughter, and the error was not harmless; and (2) Defendant's remaining allegations of error were without merit. View "Newson v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the State's petition challenging the district court's order denying the State's proposed jury instruction regarding the level of mens rea the State must prove to convict David Radonski of arson, holding that the State must prove that Radonski engaged in violation conduct coupled with a specific intent to harm.The State charged Radonski with multiple counts of arson in connection with the 2018 Perry Fire that burned over 51,000 acres. The State argued that Radonski could be liable for arson if he merely intended to commit the proscribed act of starting a fire, regardless of whether he intended to cause resulting harm. Radonski objected to the State's proposed jury instruction, arguing that the State must prove that he specifically intended to cause harm emanating from misconduct. The district court determined that arson is a specific-intent crime and denied the State's proposed jury instruction. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that Nevada's arson statutes plainly require that the State prove that Radonski "willfully and maliciously" caused a fire, which means that the State must prove a specific intent to harm in addition to a volitional act. View "State v. District Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Defendants' petitions for writ of mandamus challenging the district court's bail process and decisions, holding that, to safeguard against pretrial detainees sitting in jail simply because they cannot afford to post bail, certain due process protections are constitutionally required, and there was no relief to provide to Defendants in this case.Each defendant filed a motion to vacate or reduce their bail amount, contending that the bail amounts were excessive and that the bail process violated their right to due process and equal protection. The district court denied the motions. Both defendants filed a petition for a writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court elected to entertain the writ petitions but denied the petitions because there was no relief it could provide to Defendants, holding (1) bail may be imposed only where it is necessary to reasonably ensure the defendant's appearance at court proceedings or to protect the community, and a defendant who remains in custody after arrest is entitled to an individualized hearing; and (2) because Defendants were no longer subject to pretrial detention, their petitions for writs of mandamus are denied. View "Valdez-Jimenez v. Eighth Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that Respondent was entitled to reasonable attorney fees and costs under Nev. Rev. Stat. 239.011(2), holding that the requesting party prevails for purposes of an award of attorney fees and costs when the parties reach an agreement that affords the requesting party access to the requested records before the court enters a judgment on the merits.Plaintiff submitted a public records request to Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) under the Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA) seeking records related to a murder. When LVMPD did not respond to the request to Plaintiff's satisfaction, Plaintiff filed a petition for a writ of mandamus seeking to inspect of obtain copies of all records related to the murder within LVMPD's custody and control. Before an evidentiary hearing, the parties reached an agreement regarding the production of the records. The district court awarded attorney fees to Plaintiff. On appeal, LVMPD argued that Plaintiff did not prevail for purposes of section 239.011(2) because the district court did not enter an order compelling production of the records. The Supreme Court affirmed after adopting and applying the catalyst theory, holding that Plaintiff was entitled to reasonable attorney fees and costs. View "Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department v. Center for Investigative Reporting, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted in part Petitioner's writ petition requesting that the Supreme Court order the district court to grant his motion to dismiss four counts for which he was indicted based on the grand jury's lack of authority to inquire into those criminal offenses, holding that Nev. Rev. Stat. 172.105 empowers a grand jury to inquire into an offense so long as the district court that empaneled the grand jury may appropriately adjudicate the defendant's guilt for that offense.A Washoe County grand jury indicted Petitioner on ten counts, four of which concerned offenses committed in Douglas County. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the Douglas County counts. The district court denied the motion, concluding that a grand jury's authority to return an indictment under section 172.105 extended statewide to all felony offenses. The Supreme Court vacated the district court's order so it may reconsider Petitioner's motion to dismiss, holding that the district court incorrectly interpreted section 172.105. In reconsidering Defendant's motion, the Supreme Court directed the district court to determine, based on the evidence presented to the Washoe County grand jury, if venue was proper in the Second Judicial District Court for the Douglas County charges under the applicable statutes. View "Guzman v. Second Judicial District Court" on Justia Law