Last week, the city of Las Vegas decided it would stop charging people with misdemeanors for domestic violence.
Instead, the city will prosecute those types of cases as simple battery because under a state law passed in 2015 a domestic violence charge included having the abusers' firearms removed.
It was in response to a State Supreme Court decision that any charge that would revoke someone's 2nd Amendment rights was entitled to a jury trial.
City Attorney Brad Jerbic explained that municipal courts in Las Vegas are simply not set up to deal with jury trials.
“We don’t even have jury boxes in our municipal courtrooms let alone enough judges and attorneys to try jury trials,” he said.
In addition, a jury trial takes a very long time, Jerbic said. Currently, five to six domestic violence cases are seen every day by every municipal court judge.
“If we go to jury trials, this is what’s going to happen, we’re going to bring in a lot of Nevada citizens to sit on jury duty," Jerbic explained, "They are going to go through jury selection, which takes more time than a misdemeanor trial. You’re going to go through instructions at the beginning and at the end of the trial. You’re going to have arguments to the jury and then you’re going to have deliberations and that’s going to result in my opinion in about one trial a day.”
If the timeline were diminished from five or six a day down to one a day, the backlog of cases could stretch on for years.
Jerbic pointed out that one of the most dangerous times for a domestic violence victim is between the time his or her abuser is arrested and the beginning of the trial.
The solution now is to create an ordinance that eliminates the firearm provision but includes some of the other provisions in the original law, like the counseling requirement for batterers and an enhancement to a felony after a certain number of arrests.
“There is an ordinance that the council will consider that will create a local ordinance that charges battery domestic violence that would mirror the state law with the exception of the gun prohibition,” Jerbic explained.
However, victim advocates say that could put domestic violence victims – and law enforcement – in more danger. Liz Ortenburger is the CEO of the domestic violence shelter SafeNest. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that not being able to take away a firearm puts victims at risk and puts the law enforcement officers who respond to domestic violence call at risk.
Jerbic disagreed. He said most abusers use a blunt object or a knife. He said only a small percentage use a firearm.
He said the 2015 state law that triggered the decision by the State Supreme Court changed the whole system and made things less safe for the victims because of the jury trial requirement.
“If we go so far with the punishment and we don’t get much more out of punishment except jury trials, which are going to make victims less safe, then we need to exam what we’re really doing here,” he said.
The city of Las Vegas is not alone. Municipalities across the state have had to come up with solutions to the problem. Jerbic admitted they've had to make some tough choices.
“We are all committed to the safety of victims. We are all committed to having the strongest laws on the books to protect victims but at some point in time, we have to look at this new decision and say, ‘how do we best deal with it?’ – keeping victims' safety number one in mind.”
If you're experiencing domestic violence, contact:
SafeNest at 702-646-4981
Shade Tree 702-385-0072
Brad Jerbic, attorney, City of Las Vegas