Your Small Claims Hearing
Learn what steps you can (and should) take before your small claims hearing to organize your case and prepare yourself. Also find out what to expect and how to act on your big day in court.
FYI! The Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and the UNLV Williams S. Boyd School of Law offer a FREE small claims class, in both English and Spanish, where you can get tips on how to organize your case and present it effectively. For more information, click to visit Free Classes and Videos.
Below is a short video: Small Claims Hearing - What To Expect. Remember that different small claims courts have different procedures, so make sure you're complying with your court's requirements. To watch the entire small claims video series, click to visit our Videos page.
The small claims video series was made possible thanks to a grant from the State Bar of Nevada's Lawyer Referral and Information Service.
Preparing For Your Hearing
- Arrange For A Court Interpreter If Necessary
If you or a witness will require the assistance of an interpreter, you should bring one with you. You can also contact the District Court Interpreter’s Office to make arrangement for an interpreter to be present on your court date. An interpreter cannot be your spouse, a relative, biased for or against one of the parties, or otherwise interested in the outcome of the hearing. Generally, an interpreter must be court approved, and you should use one from the interpreter’s office. To learn more, click to visit Interpreters.
- Familiarize Yourself With Courtroom Procedure
Before your hearing, consider observing small claims court in action. This is especially helpful if you are nervous about your upcoming hearing, or if you just want to get an idea of what to expect. You can call the court clerk or visit the court’s website for a schedule of upcoming small claims hearing. Click to visit Justice Courts and Look Up My Case for court website and contact information.
- Organize Your Case And Evidence
Although you have been preparing and waiting for your hearing date for months, your hearing will only last for ten or fifteen minutes. Because you have such a short time, it is important to be prepared and organized.
Before the hearing, prepare a brief outline to refer to during the hearing. Most judges prefer that you do not read a prepared statement. Your outline should include the necessary facts and details about your case. Do not include unnecessary details, history, or be repetitious. You should explain why you believe you are entitled to the money you have requested and refer to any applicable laws upon which you are relying. And remember, it is up to you to prove your case.
FYI! You don’t have the right to demand a jury in small claims court. In 2005, the Nevada Supreme Court found that small claims court exists to provide speedy and effective resolutions of disputes where the money at issue is minimal. Therefore, there is no constitutional right to a jury trial.
Preparing your evidence for the hearing is just as important as preparing your thoughts. You should bring the original and three copies of any contract, check, photograph, police report, receipt, letter, estimate, or any other document you wish to submit as evidence (one copy for you, one for the other side, and one for the judge). Also bring a copy of any law you refer to in your case. If you have several documents, put them in a binder with tabs and prepare a table of contents listing each document and its corresponding tab. This will enable you to find your documents quickly when you go to court.
Once you are done with your research, preparing your outline, and organizing your evidence, you should practice presenting your case. It may be especially helpful if you present your case to someone who is not familiar with it. If something is confusing or does not make sense, you will know.
Your Day In Court
- Arrive Early And Dress Appropriately
Arrive early! Arriving at least half an hour early is ideal. The last thing you want to happen after all of the work you have done preparing for your day in court is to be late. Leave plenty of time to find a parking spot, walk to the courthouse, go through security, and find the correct courtroom.
Dress conservatively. You are not required to wear a suit, but you should refrain from wearing shorts, flip-flops, tank tops, halter-tops, or shirts that show your midriff. You must remove hats and sunglasses before entering the courtroom.
- What To Expect In The Courtroom
Your hearing will take place in a courtroom with many other people who have a hearing at the same time. Be polite and pay attention while waiting for your case to be called. Refrain from talking, chewing gum, listening to music, and shuffling your papers. Be sure that your phone is turned off. If you must leave the courtroom, do so as quietly as possible. Respect the clerks, marshals, and other litigants.
The first order of business in small claims court is for the clerk to call roll and determine which parties are present. If the plaintiff is not present, the judge may dismiss the case. If the defendant is not present, the judge may ask for the plaintiff to prove up the amount of money he is demanding, and the plaintiff may be awarded a default judgment for the full amount sought in the complaint.
Cases where both parties are present are heard in the order of the case numbers. When your case number is called, go to the appropriate plaintiff or defendant table at the front of the courtroom.
- How Your Hearing Will Proceed
Usually, the judge will ask the plaintiff to present his case first, and then the defendant. Throughout the hearing, the judge will probably ask each party questions about the facts of the case or evidence. If the judge asks for your evidence, hand it to the marshal. Do not approach the judge unless instructed to do so. Always address the judge as “Your Honor” or “Judge” and never interrupt or talk over the judge.
Even if you believe your opponent is not telling the truth, you should remain calm and polite. Do not interrupt your opponent, talk to your opponent, or raise your hand to get the judge’s attention. Instead, write down your point and wait for the judge to address you about your opponent’s statement and provide evidence to the contrary.
At the end of the hearing, the judge will either issue a decision right away or take the case under advisement. When the judge takes a case under advisement, it means that the decision is pending while the judge considers the facts or researches questions of law. The court will mail you a copy of the decision. A Justice of the Peace’s decision is called an “Order.”
TIP! If your address changes from the one listed on your complaint or your first filing in the case, make sure you give the court clerk your new address or you may not receive a copy of the judge’s decision.
There are a few different ways in which the judge can rule on a case:
- If the judge believes the plaintiff failed to prove his case, the judge can find in the defendant’s favor and enter judgment for the defendant.
- If the judge finds that the plaintiff has proven his case and the defendant had no defenses, the judge can find in the plaintiff’s favor and order the defendant to pay to plaintiff.
- In a case where the defendant filed a counterclaim and was able to prove his case, the judge could find in his favor and order the plaintiff to pay the defendant.
- And sometimes, the judge may find each party owes the other, and can offset one claim against the other.