Editorial: Denial of Second Amendment rights warrants a jury trial

Earlier this month, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled a person charged with misdemeanor domestic battery is entitled to a trial by jury, because the state Legislature in 2017 enacted a law saying someone convicted of such a crime could have their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms denied.

In keeping with a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision, our state’s high court had previously held that only those persons charged with a “serious” crime are entitled to a jury trial, which was defined as a crime carrying a sentence of greater than six months. 

The unanimous opinion written by Justice Lidia Stiglich stated the change in state law to prohibit firearms possession by someone convicted of domestic violence effectively increases the “penalty” and makes the crime “serious” rather than “petty.” 

“In our opinion, this new penalty — a prohibition on the right to bear arms as guaranteed by both the United States and Nevada Constitutions — ‘clearly reflect[s] a legislative determination that the offense [of misdemeanor domestic battery] is a serious one,’” Stiglich writes in a case out of Las Vegas.

The ruling concludes, “Given that the Legislature has indicated that the offense of misdemeanor domestic battery is serious, it follows that one facing the charge is entitled to the right to a jury trial.”

Attorney Michael Pariente, who represented appellate Christopher Anderson, told the Las Vegas newspaper, “I applaud the Nevada Supreme Court for unanimously doing the right thing. I think it’s a huge decision. They spoke with one voice, and it’s a good day for people who are charged with misdemeanor domestic violence. It forces the prosecutor to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt to a 12-person jury instead of one single, sitting judge.”

But Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, whose office argued against allowing a jury trial in such cases (See clarification/correction below), put out a statement saying, “The devastating consequences of this decision cannot be overstated. Misdemeanor courts across this state are not equipped for jury trials, and this decision could have a widespread chilling effect on domestic violence victims coming forward. My office is working hand-in-hand with city, county, and federal officials to formulate a response and prevent the domestic violence epidemic in this state from further devastating our communities. The most immediate priority for my office is doing whatever it takes to ensure more people are not killed by their abusers as a result of this decision.”

Frankly, we have to ask: Why did it ever come to this?

The Webster’s definition of “all” is: “the whole amount, quantity, or extent of; every member or individual component of; the whole number or sum of; every.”

You see, Article 3, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution states: “The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury …”

The Sixth Amendment reads: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury …”

The Nevada Constitution says: “The right of trial by Jury shall be secured to all and remain inviolate forever …”

How the U.S. Supreme Court decided “petty” crimes do not warrant a trial by jury is beyond our feeble minds, but in any case the Nevada high court is to be applauded for deciding that the denial of the fundamental right to bear arms constitutes a serious matter and deserves a trial by a jury of one’s peers.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Nevada Supreme Court justices: Seated: Associate Chief Justice Kristina Pickering, Justice Ron D. Parraguirre, Chief Justice Mark Gibbons, Justice James W. Hardesty, Justice Lidia S. Stiglich. Standing: Justice Abbi Silver, Justice Elissa F. Cadish.

 

Clarification/correction

A recent editorial stated that Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford’s office argued against allowing a jury trial in misdemeanor domestic violence cases. The office was not actively involved in the case in which the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that because the Legislature passed a law allowing the denial of Second Amendment rights for persons convicted in such cases that persons thus accused have the right to a jury trial because the charge is now serious rather than petty.

After the ruling, Ford’s office issued a statement in response to a media inquiry about possible victim impact. Only part of the statement appeared in the media. The full statement reads:

“One of the main areas of focus for my office is the protection of constitutional rights. That means all rights – including the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms and the 6th Amendment right to a jury trial. Accordingly, I understand, appreciate, and accept the analysis and decision of the Nevada Supreme Court on the intersection of these constitutional rights in the context of misdemeanor domestic battery charges which, if proven, result in the loss of the right to own firearms. I do not challenge that conclusion and, in fact, embrace it as an example of how sacred all constitutional rights (e.g., voting, reproductive health, etc.) are. That said, it cannot be denied that this new jury requirement will have very real and practical effects on domestic-violence prosecutions. To properly implement this new jury requirement, more resources are immediately needed, such as access to victim advocates, additional prosecutors and defense attorneys, training for laypersons who serve as justices of the peace, and many other needs. In the meantime, the sad fact remains – domestic violence victims are at risk. And our state is already ranked as one of the worst in the country for domestic violence fatalities. While we seek ways to implement this new jury requirement for misdemeanor defendants, my office will continue leveraging its resources and working with city, county, and federal officials to protect Nevada families from domestic violence.”