Supreme Court orders lawyers appointed early in death case proceedings |

Supreme Court orders lawyers appointed early in death case proceedings

The Nevada Supreme Court has ordered judges to make sure defendants who could face a death sentence have qualified legal representation at the earliest stage possible – even before charges are filed.

The amendments to Supreme Court Rule 250 say that in cases involving a criminal complaint, a qualified death case lawyer should be named before the preliminary hearing.

In cases where the grand jury indictment process is used, the new rule requires the potential defendant be advised they can ask for a lawyer even before the grand jury proceedings begin.

The appointment is not required if the prosecutor certifies that they won’t seek the death penalty and in cases where there is no way to notify the defendant – such as where the person is a fugitive.

In addition, those rules require that the prosecutor provide the defense with notice of all witnesses, documents and other means they intend to use to show that a death sentence is warranted in a case. That notice must be provided 15 days before the start of the trial in the case so the defense has time to prepare a defense.

But the order, which takes effect Jan. 21, allows the attorney general and county district attorneys out of requirements that they file annual reports with the Supreme Court detailing how many murder cases were handled and data about those cases including the race and ethnicity of the defendants and victims, whether the death penalty was sought and the outcome in the case.

Nevada’s rules for handling death penalty murder cases already require that the lawyer have experience in handling at least five felony trials and one murder trial as well as experience with at least one death penalty trial before they can be appointed to represent an indigent defendant in a death case. Those rules were set up to ensure that people without the money to hire counsel don’t wind up with lawyers who have no experience in criminal trials or death penalty cases.