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Steven J. Klearman
Steven J. Klearman
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Nevada Supreme Court: Absence of Written Jury Instruction on Bifurcation Warrants Abuse of Discretion Finding

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In Valdez v. State, the Nevada Supreme Court recently ruled on the constitutional rights and statutory procedures regarding instructing a jury on the separating the finding of guilt from the penalty phase of the legal process in a first-degree murder case.

In Valdez the Court addressed four issues:

1) Whether the district court must explicitly instruct the jury, immediately prior to deliberations in a first-degree murder case, that it is to determine only the question of guilt and not deliberate on the sentence until the separate penalty phase of the proceedings;

2) Whether the jury acted improperly by deliberating the penalty while deciding the issue of guilt, and if so, whether the district court abused its discretion in denying a motion for a mistrial based on this jury misconduct;

3) Whether numerous alleged acts of prosecutorial misconduct require reversal; and,

4) Whether cumulative error warrants reversal in this case.

The Nevada Supreme Court ultimately found that "the district court’s failure to give a written instruction regarding bifurcation was an abuse of discretion" and that the ensuing juror misconduct violated Valdez’s constitutional rights and therefore warrants reversal.

The entire opinion can be found here.