Supreme Court shuts off another out in DUI cases
Doing a legal dance to intervene in cases where district courts normally have the last word, the Nevada Supreme Court has shut down a clever maneuver used to get some defendants out of drunken-driving charges.
Misdemeanor cases are traditionally appealed to district court and can’t be taken to the Supreme Court.
But Clark County prosecutors asked the high court to get involved after Clark District judges in six cases dismissed DUI charges against defendants because they already pleaded guilty to lesser traffic charges.
They pointed out that in several of those cases, prosecutors protested the quick guilty plea to minor speeding and other traffic charges.
Defense lawyers entered those pleas, then used them to get the DUI charges dismissed on grounds the defendant already pleaded guilty in that case and any other charges would be redundant.
Clark County district attorneys asked the court for emergency relief, expressing fear the maneuver might be used to get many DUI defendants off the hook.
Chief Justice Bob Rose and justices Cliff Young and Deborah Agosti admitted that district courts have the final appellate say over justice court cases and that they have only rarely intervened “to control an arbitrary or capricious exercise of discretion.”
The opinion says they intervened because there is a difference of opinion on the issue among judges in Clark County that needs to be settled.
“There essentially is a split of authority amongst the lower courts. The only way this split can be resolved is for this court to exercise its constitutional prerogative to entertain these writ petitions,” the opinion says.
But a review of the six cases covered by the opinion failed to reveal any difference of opinion among the justices of the peace or the district court judges involved.
The high court also rejected defense arguments that the appeal was filed far after the deadline for any appeal of those decisions. Notice of appeal is normally required in a matter of days. The cases covered by the DUI opinion were anywhere from five to 11 months old when the appeal was filed.
Having decided they have the power to act, the three justices ruled this week that driving under the influence is separate from the other traffic violations in those six cases and doesn’t require any other legal violation. Therefore, the three justices conclude that the DUI charges aren’t redundant and do not have to be dismissed just because the defendant pleaded guilty to the traffic violations cited in the same case.
They ordered the DUI charges reinstated in all six cases.