• By Albert Depew

The Process Begins

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What Should I Do If a Crime Has Occurred?

If you have not reported the crime, you must do so promptly. If this is an emergency, call 911 immediately. Explain to the emergency dispatch officer what happened and if the suspect is still in the area. The dispatch officer will assign your call to the appropriate law enforcement agency to make a full report. It is very important that you do not move, touch or destroy any evidence of the crime, as the law enforcement officer will need to photograph it and take it into evidence. If the crime is not an emergency situation, make contact with the law enforcement agency through its regular telephone number.

You will be asked to fill out a statement as to what happened. It is critical that you make this statement as complete as possible. If you have trouble writing, notify the law enforcement officer of this and he/she will arrange for someone to help you. In your statement, only include what you saw or know to be true--do not speculate. It is very important that you put down any statements the suspect made to you before, during or after the crime. If you remember something after you have submitted your statement, you should fill out a supplemental statement and make sure it is given to the law enforcement officer who took your first statement, or the detective who has been assigned to handle the case. Even if you are not sure the information you have is important, it is better for you to fill out a supplemental statement and let the law enforcement officer or prosecutor determine whether it is necessary information. Often, cases have been lost because a witness did not give complete information to the law enforcement officer or prosecutor.

Your Role as a Victim or Witness

As a crime victim, you are essential for the prosecution of the defendant. However, you are not a formal party to the criminal proceeding. In a criminal proceeding, the State of Nevada (or city) is the plaintiff, and the accused is the defendant. It is important that you realize the prosecutor has the discretion as to whether or not to proceed on criminal charges, and whether or not to settle the case in exchange for a plea to reduced charges or a specific recommended sentence. Even if you do not want the defendant prosecuted, the prosecutor can proceed. The same is true if you want to prosecute and the prosecutor declines. Please keep in mind that you always have the option of filing a civil lawsuit against the defendant through a private attorney.

As a witness (non-victim) you have seen, heard or know something about a crime that has been committed, and it is important that you be prepared to testify. Oftentimes, a witness' reluctance to get involved results in a suspect not being charged, convicted or punished.

The Charging Process

Once the law enforcement officer has completed the investigation, there are several options:

  1. The officer may arrest the suspect, if the crime is a felony, gross misdemeanor, or a domestic violence battery that has occurred within the preceding 24 hours; or
  2. The officer may submit the full crime report to the prosecutor for review and a charging decision, at which point if charges are filed, either an arrest warrant or summons to appear is issued to the defendant; or
  3. The officer may suspend or close the case because of the lack of sufficient evidence on which to make an arrest or to submit to the prosecutor.

Once the district or city attorney (prosecutor) receives the investigation reports from law enforcement, he or she will review the case. The prosecutor has three options after reviewing the case: return the case to law enforcement for further investigation; file what the prosecutor believes are the appropriate charges in the case; or decline to prosecute.

The prosecutor has the sole discretion to decide how to handle the case. If the prosecutor decides not to file charges, it is generally because he or she believes that there is insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. It does not mean that a crime did not occur, but rather, that they can not prove the case. Remember that the prosecutor must prove the case "beyond a reasonable doubt" and has an ethical obligation to proceed only on those charges that are supported by the evidence.


Nevada's criminal laws are located in the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS). A crime is defined as "an act or omission forbidden by law and punishable upon conviction," and the law classifies criminal offenses into three categories: misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, and felonies.

Every crime punishable by a fine of not more than $1000, and/or by imprisonment in a county or jail for not more than six months. Community service imposed by the court is an alternative to all or part of the punishment. These crimes are handled in either justice or city courts by a justice of the peace or city judge. Guilt or innocence is determined solely by the presiding judge. A defendant charged with a misdemeanor does not have the right to have a jury trial. Some examples of misdemeanors are traffic offenses, battery (unlawful hitting), and property crimes with a value under $250.00.

Gross Misdemeanor:
A crime wherein the punishment is imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than $2000 or by both fine and imprisonment. Probation is possible with this crime. This crime requires a preliminary hearing (to confirm probable cause to charge) in front of a justice of the peace and, if enough evidence exists, the case is bound over for jury trial in district court. An example of this crime is conspiracy to commit another crime. Relatively few crimes come under this category.

This Is the most serious criminal offense and is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year in a state prison and/or fines depending on the specific crime. There are five different classes of felonies, ranging from Class E (maximum 4 years, probation usually mandatory) to Class A (imprisonment for life or the death penalty). Probation is available in most felonies. Contact your prosecutor if you have any questions regarding the range of punishments. Anyone charged with a felony has the right to a preliminary hearing, and if bound over to district court, has the right to a jury trial. Examples of felonies are sexual assault, burglary, murder, robbery, weapon and drug violations.

Arrest and Bail

There are different procedures involved for the arrest of a defendant:

A law enforcement officer may issue a citation for a misdemeanor committed in his/her presence. If the misdemeanor was not "committed in his presence," he/she can submit the case to the prosecuting attorney for review and possible charges. A person does have the right to make what is known as a "citizen's arrest," but this practice is discouraged as it makes the person who made the arrest possibly liable for wrongful arrest. It is best to have the law enforcement officer either make the arrest or submit the case to the prosecuting attorney for charging.

Gross Misdemeanor/ Felony:
A law enforcement officer may make an arrest if the offense is a gross misdemeanor or felony, regardless of whether the officer was actually present when the crime was committed, if the officer has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.

A summons can be issued from a court, which requires a defendant to appear for arraignment and trial. A summons is generally used in misdemeanor cases where the defendant is not likely to commit any more crimes. A traffic ticket issued by a police officer is a "summons," requiring a subsequent appearance in court.

A law enforcement officer may arrest a person who has a warrant issued by a court for their arrest.

Bail Bonds:
A bail bond is intended to ensure that the defendant will appear at every stage of the criminal justice process. A defendant in a criminal case in generally entitled to have bail set in a reasonable amount. Bail bonds are usually money or security that a defendant puts forth to be allowed to leave custody. The judge sets this amount. However, a judge can increase the amount based on the seriousness of the crime, the defendant's prior criminal history, or if there is evidence the defendant might leave the area or commit further crimes. If the defendant is unable to meet the bond amount, he usually remains in custody pending trial on the charges. The judge has the ability to release a defendant on his/her "own recognizance" without having to post bail. This is done if the judge believes the defendant will appear for all court proceedings and is unlikely to commit any further crimes.

Who Will Prosecute the Crime?

City Attorney:
Is responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor crimes that occur within the city limits of an incorporated city. Except for Carson City, which is both a city and a county under state law, city attorneys cannot prosecute gross misdemeanors or felonies. Trials in municipal court are held before a judge and there is no right to a jury trial.

District Attorney:
Is responsible for prosecuting all crimes (felonies, gross misdemeanors and misdemeanors) that occur within a county, except for misdemeanors committed within an incorporated city. In Carson City, the district attorney is also the city attorney.

For the purposes of this handbook, the term "prosecutor" will be used for both city and district attorneys and their deputies.