According to The Sagebrush State the structure of the Nevada Judiciary is divided into three levels: appellate court (Nevada Supreme Court), courts of general jurisdiction (Nevada district courts), and courts of limited jurisdiction (justice courts and municipal courts) (Bowers 101). Nevada does not have an intermediate court of appeals between its supreme court and trial courts (Bowers 101). The Nevada Judiciaries chief function is to interpret state statutes and state constitutional provisions and impose sanctions on those who violate them (Bowers 101). The Nevada Supreme Court is the highest level court and is the court of last resort in the state judicial system (Bowers 101). Justices on the court are elected for six-year, staggered terms (Bowers 101). Due to the increased workload the justices would sit in two panels of three to hear appeals (Bowers 102). One in Carson City and one in Las Vegas (Bowers 102).
The panels are randomly appointed and membership rotates every twelve months (Bowers 102). All seven justices sit as a group to hear only the most important cases, such as those involving ballot questions, direct appeals in death penalty cases, and contested cases involving attorney suspension or disbarment (Bowers 102). To decide who the chief justice is among two or more people in their last 2 years of a term they typically toss a coin or take turns with one of them serving as chief justice the first year and the other the second year (Bowers 102). The other would in the meantime serve as vice-chief justice (Bowers 102).
The Nevada Supreme Court exercises both original and appellate jurisdiction (Bowers 103). The Nevada Supreme Court hears appeals coming from the state’s district courts but is restricted to hearing questions of law only and not questions of fact (Bowers 103). Additionally, they decide whether/ why they believe the proceeding in the district courts were proper or improper (Bowers 103).
District court judges are chosen in non partisan elections just for six-year terms just like the supreme court justices (Bowers 104). There have been ten judicial districts in Nevada (Bowers 104). The judges in each district usually vary on the population of that district (Bowers 104). However, district courts are single-judge courts, meaning that cases are heard by a single judge and not by a panel as in the supreme court (Bowers 105). In some civil cases and in all “serious” criminal cases, defined as those in which the defendant may receive a penalty of incarceration of more than six months, the defendant is entitled to a jury trial (Bowers 105).
The district courts exercise both appellate and original jurisdiction (Bowers 105). In 1990 legislature established family court divisions within the district courts (Bowers 105). The lowest tier in Nevada’s judicial system, the courts of limited jurisdictions, consist of the justice and municipal courts (Bowers 106). They have original jurisdiction only and hear minor criminal and civil matters, most notably traffic violations (Bowers 106). Judges in the justice courts are referred to as justices of the peace and are selected by the voters of the state’s forty-three townships in nonpartisan elections for six-year, staggered terms (Bowers 106). Justice courts have three major duties: to hear cases involving minor criminal offenses (misdemeanors), to hear civil cases of $10,000, or less, and to hold preliminary hearings in felony and gross misdemeanor cases to determine if there is probable cause to hold the defendant over for trial in a district court (Bowers 106). The chief function of municipal courts is to hear traffic cases and cases involving violations of city ordinances (Bowers 106).
Those who are elected, such as judges in Sparks and Las Vegas, serve four-year terms of office while those who are appointed, as those in Boulder city, serve at the pleasure of the city council (Bowers 106). In 1976 the voters of Nevada approved a constitutional amendment establishing a state Commision on Judicial Discipline (Bowers 106). The commission has 7 members: 2 judges or justices appointed by the supreme court, two members of the State Bar of Nevada selected by the bar’s board of governor, and 3 lay-people appointed by the governor (Bowers 106). This commission has the authority only to censure, retire, or remove supreme court and district court judges and retire or remove, but not censure, municipal and justice court judges (Bowers 107).