LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- The city of Las Vegas has stopped charging people with misdemeanor domestic violence. Instead, people will be charged with simple battery.
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled people charged with misdemeanor domestic violence have the right to a jury trial.
Domestic Violence Prevention Advocacy groups believe this is a huge step backward. SafeNest houses domestic violence victims.
“This is just sort of another blow in typically a lifetime of blows,” said SafeNest CEO Liz Ortenburger.
According to Ortenburger, domestic violence is about control, manipulation. Abusers try to take away the victim’s voice. That’s the same thing Ortenburger said this law does.
“This just compounds the belief that I don't have value,” said Ortenburger.
There are several key differences between simple battery and misdemeanor domestic violence. Simple battery doesn’t require mandatory counseling. At SafeNest, they call their program, “Batterers Intervention.”
“It's 26 to 52 weeks that really drills down to batterers, why are you doing this?” said Ortenburger.
Under misdemeanor domestic violence, a third charge upgrades to a felony. That doesn’t exist with simple battery. It also doesn’t force the defendant to give up their guns.
“Domestic violence victims who are living in households with a firearm have a 500 percent higher chance of being victims of homicide,” said Ortenburger.
SafeNest is one of several domestic violence victim advocacy groups in the valley. It helps around 20,000 people a year but domestic violence is still a major problem.
“Nevada is the second most lethal state for women based on domestic violent homicides,” said Ortenburger.
In September, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled domestic violence defendants have the right to a jury trial. Jury trials take time; months, even years. Ortenburger said more time during pending charges mean more chances for abuse and fewer chances for prosecution.
“At some point victims say you know, is this worth it? To press charges? … We're in no way creating a safer system,” said Ortenburger.
Some say it's a more just system.
“A person's entitled to a constitutional right,” said John Watkins.
Watkins is one of the attorneys who worked on the case that sparked the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“What's wrong with giving people the jury trial? That comes from 1215 the Magna Carta," Watkins said.
Right now, the Las Vegas Municipal Court is not equipped for jury trials. On Wednesday, city council proposed an ordinance that would categorize simple battery under domestic violence.
“You can't have a legislature pass a law and then the municipality change the law … The fact that they say, ‘well it makes it difficult and we're not equipped,’ sorry!” said Watkins.
“The silver lining here could be that we can take this and say, okay long term, what are actually solutions that are going to be victim-centered?” said Ortenburger.
Ortenburger said short term, they’re making sure victims are educated. Long term, she said she hopes Nevada will follow other states that have domestic violence specialty courts which help with a speedier trial.
If you or someone you know who needs help, there are resources available here.