The New Southpaws: The Turning of the Nevada Supreme Court's Criminal Decisions

By Colombo, Elizabeth F. | Albany Law Review, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

The New Southpaws: The Turning of the Nevada Supreme Court's Criminal Decisions


Colombo, Elizabeth F., Albany Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

This high court study examines the Nevada Supreme Court's criminal rulings from 1997 to 2002. The Court's criminal rulings during this period provide over forty majority opinions that were concurrently published with separate opinions. These separate opinions allow for analysis of the individual justices' stances on the issues that are relevant to them.

The Nevada Supreme Court has undergone major changes in recent years with the addition of new seats, a new chief justice, and with other changes to increase efficiency, such as mandatory settlement procedures. (1) The court swelled from five to seven members in 1997 through a legislative amendment, with the new justices taking office in 1999. (2) The members of the court are also elected every six years, requiring incumbent members to run for reelection. (3) The elections are staggered, which is proscribed by the Nevada State Constitution, so that the number of justices running for re-election every two years is roughly equal. (4) Since the additional justices were added to the bench, cases are now generally heard by three-member panels instead of en banc as was previously the custom, although occasionally, cases are still heard by the court as whole. (5) Further, the court has a backlog of well over a thousand cases, which the justices are constantly struggling to overcome. (6) Developing strategies to overcome this backlog is a common platform in re-election campaigns. (7)

While the Supreme Court is Nevada's highest court of record, the court also has "appellate jurisdiction in all civil cases arising in district courts" and over questions of law in criminal cases in which "the offense charged is within the original jurisdiction of the district courts." (8) Since there is no intermediate appellate court in Nevada, petitioners have an automatic right to appeal directly to the Supreme Court, which must review all cases filed. (9) Many of the cases, however, are disposed of without an opinion. In the years 2000-2001, of the 2,008 cases disposed of, 112 were disposed of with an opinion, and 1,896 were disposed of via an order. (10) Given the Court's backlog of cases, however, 1,628 appeals were still pending before the Court at the close of 2001. (11)

It is worthwhile to examine the current climate of the court given its recent history and the numerous changes in the make-up of the Court, all acting in concert to bring the Nevada Supreme Court into the new millennium.

II. THE JUSTICES

The Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court serves a two-year rotation; a justice is eligible for the position when he or she has the least amount of service remaining on his or her term on the Court, typically meaning when the remaining term is two years from completion. (12)

Robert E. Rose occupies "Seat C" (13) and is the most outspoken of the current members of the court, often dissenting. His term expires in 2006. (14) Justice Rose has crusaded for a strong chief-justice system in Nevada's district courts, for more efficiency in the court system, particularly with record keeping, and implementation of a state intermediate appeals court. (15) It was under Justice Rose's leadership that the court's backlog topped 2,500 cases in 1997, a possible source for his continued interest in the Court's efficiency. (16) Although the Supreme Court has been effective in reducing both the case backlog and the amount of time that it takes for an appeal to be heard, Justice Rose nonetheless asserted the need for an intermediate appellate court to ease the case load. (17) Voters, however, have twice defeated this proposal. (18)

Cliff Young, who occupied "Seat D" on the Court, left the Court at the end of 2002. (19) He has the distinction of being both the oldest Nevada Supreme Court justice and the oldest living former Nevada Congressman. (20) Justice Young was elected to the Nevada Supreme Court in 1984 after unseating Justice Noel Manoukian, who had been feuding with other members of the court. …

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