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.
Steve is the Managing Shareholder of Steven J. Klearman & Associates, a civil litigation law firm located in Reno, Nevada. He practices primarily in the areas of civil litigation and injury law, and has authored one of the definitive guides to Nevada civil law that is widely used by Nevada judges and attorneys, his book entitled Elements of Nevada Legal Theories.