ELKO – Elko County could hire four more employees in an effort to accommodate a new ruling allowing domestic violence defendants to seek a jury trial.
The Nevada Supreme Court handed down a decision on Sept. 12 that all municipal and justice courts conduct jury trials for individuals charged with domestic violence.
Elko County District Attorney Tyler Ingram said his office has been working to accommodate defendants who exercise their right to request a jury trial and schedule it within the 60-day time limit if the court calendar allows.
Approximately 176 domestic violence cases have been filed in his office, Ingram said, with about 15 more pending.
He guessed that 75-80 percent of cases could successfully go to trial because those types of cases cannot be dismissed or negotiated outside of a jury.
“As a prosecutor, the Legislature took away our ability to negotiate those cases, and they took away our ability to dismiss those cases,” Ingram said, “… unless we explain to the court why we cannot try those cases beyond a reasonable doubt.
“We are already seeing written demands for jury trials in domestic violence cases,” Ingram continued. “We have jury trials on the calendar right now.”
Since the ruling, the DA’s office and the justice court have been working out the logistics of conducting jury trials, which will include utilizing all five municipal courts in Elko, Carlin, Wells and West Wendover.
However, it’s “a work in progress” as the District Attorney’s office and the Public Defender’s office arrange attorney schedules with each of the courts and the County Clerk’s office sends out jury notices, Ingram said.
“We have been working since the day this decision came out to get to that point, but we’re not there yet,” Ingram said, adding that the decision “caught everyone off guard” throughout the state.
Ingram and Public Defender Kriston Hill each asked for two new attorneys to handle the upcoming caseload in their offices, however, with the county in the middle of the current fiscal year, each department will receive only one who would be assigned to the justice court jury trials.
“It was half of what the various departments were looking for,” said County Manager Rob Stokes following the commissioners meeting on Wednesday.
Positions for a bailiff for Wells and West Wendover jury trials and an additional employee in the county clerk’s office for jury selection were also added to the request. It would effectively create four new positions that could be hired by the end of the calendar year.
The cost of the new employees is approximately $200,000, which would come out of the contingency fund, Stokes said.
County Commission Chairman Rex Steninger recommended a motion to start the hiring process, which was made by Delmo Andreozzi and seconded by Jon Karr. The motion was unanimously approved.
“I don’t think anybody foresaw this consequence that was coming,” Andreozzi said.
Stokes told the commissioners that “the sands are still shifting” as he heard from a representative from the Legislative Counsel Bureau a couple of hours before Wednesday’s meeting.
“What we were told, without detail because the individual could not speak on the record, is that something will happen in the next week or two that will affect this whole issue,” Stokes said.
Because of that, he asked the commissioners to approve a motion that would proceed with advertising the new positions, but to hold off on actually hiring them, revisiting the matter at the next commission meeting on Oct. 16.
The change in procedure for handling a misdemeanor crime comes after the state Supreme Court reviewed a case out of Las Vegas where a defendant charged with domestic battery appealed for his right to a jury trial after his request was denied in a Clark County district court.
Adding to the justices’ consideration of the appeal was a law passed in the 2019 Legislature that amended NRS 200.485, which criminalized possession or control of a firearm in the state by an individual who has a prior domestic violence conviction.
“It is this amendment that … commands the conclusion that misdemeanor domestic battery is a serious offense,” wrote Justice Lidia Stiglich.
“Given that the Legislature has indicated that the offense of misdemeanor domestic battery is serious, it follows that one facing the charge is entitled to the right to a jury trial,” the opinion concluded.