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Victim advocates concerned about Nevada Supreme Court ruling's impact on domestic violence cases

Posted at 11:39 PM, Oct 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-03 03:02:29-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Cities across the state are scrambling to deal with the far-reaching effects of the Nevada Supreme Court ruling on domestic violence cases.

To comply with a state law, some cities will begin charging people with simple battery instead of misdemeanor domestic violence.

Wednesday evening, the North Las Vegas City Council was just beginning work on passing a new ordinance to address a ruling by the Nevada Supreme Court.

State law bars people convicted of domestic violence from possessing a firearm. The Nevada high court recently ruled that because that conviction strips someone of a constitutional right they are entitled to a jury trial. A lot of misdemeanor domestic violence cases are typically bench trials.

Liz Ortenburger is the CEO of the domestic violence prevention organization and shelter SafeNest.

"It is a problematic decision on many levels,” said Ortenburger.

While constitutionally sound, she says replacing misdemeanor domestic violence charges with simple battery charges could put more victims in danger.

That’s because domestic violence convictions also include certain requirements that simple battery does not. A third domestic violence offense within seven years is automatically increased to a felony charge. And counseling is required for the defendant.

"Which are designed to educate, make batterers accountable and understand their behavior with hopes we will curb the behavior and battery won’t continue."

Most importantly, she said a simple battery conviction doesn’t include the mandatory removal of a firearm. The odds of a domestic violence victim becoming a homicide victim increase exponentially when a gun is in the home.

"So those three things don’t make victims any safer. They make it simpler for the municipality to continue doing domestic violence cases, but they don’t make domestic violence victims safer," she said.

Las Vegas will now prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence as simple battery, North Las Vegas is considering it. Ortenburger predicts Henderson, Mesquite and Boulder City will soon follow.