Updated October 9, 2019 - 6:33 am
Henderson and North Las Vegas have introduced ordinances that would allow them to sidestep a state law requiring domestic abusers to be barred from having guns.
The potential changes come on the heels of a Nevada Supreme Court decision that held defendants in misdemeanor domestic violence cases are entitled to a jury trial. The proposals virtually mirror a proposed measure introduced by Las Vegas.
Last month, the high court unanimously ruled that, because state law could affect a defendant’s Second Amendment rights, the proceedings are serious enough to warrant a jury trial.
Under the cities’ proposed fixes, the municipalities would avoid holding jury trials that they say they are unable to perform by creating a misdemeanor domestic violence offense that doesn’t require people found guilty to give up their firearms.
“I think that our options are limited right now,” said Marc Schifalacqua, Henderson’s senior assistant city attorney for the criminal division.
He said Henderson, which last year filed about 1,100 domestic violence cases, is unable to handle the jury trials.
Schifalacqua said he respects the high court decision and wants to conduct jury trials but acknowledges it can’t be done overnight. He suspects it would take years for the city to have what it needs to handle jury trials for all domestic violence cases.
“We have victims who need justice and protection today,” he said.
The ordinance, he said, is not a “forever fix.”
Julie Proctor, executive director of domestic violence shelter S.A.F.E. House, called the situation a “catch-22” for officials.
“Jury trials are set so far out that it could be dangerous to the victims,” she said. The length of time it takes to get to a trial could influence a victim’s decision to testify, she said.
She is concerned about abusers keeping their guns but acknowledged that city officials are doing the best they can.
Last month, attorney John G. Watkins of Pariente Law Firm criticized Las Vegas’ ordinance, asserting that the city cannot enact laws already written by the Legislature. Watkins worked on the case heard by the Nevada Supreme Court.
“That is absolutely wrong,” Schifalacqua said. Cities are allowed to pass ordinances that already exist in state law unless doing so is specifically prohibited, he said.
Watkins on Tuesday argued that laws passed by the Legislature must be uniform throughout the state, and cities passing ordinances in conflict with existing state law is prohibited.
Schifalacqua said there needs to be a state solution to the problem that creates clear rules and a funding solution for jury trials in municipal court.
Unlike Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, Schifalacqua said Henderson is still prosecuting domestic violence cases under state law. For defendants who plead not guilty and request a trial, he plans to amend their criminal complaints to charge them under the new ordinance after it goes into effect.
Since September 2018, North Las Vegas has filed nearly 1,000 domestic violence cases, according to city-provided data.
“Given the status of existing law, the intent and purpose of introducing this ordinance is to continue to provide justice to and protect victims of domestic violence while ensuring that defendants continue to receive their due process,” North Las Vegas City Attorney Micaela Moore said in a statement.
The ordinances were introduced last week and are scheduled for a vote next week.
Domestic violence hotline
If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.