LITIGATION DEPARTMENT OF THE YEAR - Mid-Size Firm  ALM's Daily Report   2019 - 2018 - 2017 - 2016 - 2014

Phillip Nelson Smith, Jr.

Partner

Phillip Smith, Jr. is a seasoned trial attorney whose practice focuses on Criminal Law, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Catastrophic Injury, Commercial Litigation, Premises Liability & Negligent Security, Special Matters and Investigations, and Firearms and Non-Powder Firearms.

Over a span of almost a decade, Phillip served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada. Phillip also served five years as a Deputy District Attorney at the Clark County District Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas. As both a state and federal prosecutor, he tried almost 60 cases in front of a jury (the majority as lead or sole counsel) and prosecuted various criminal cases, including cases involving violent crimes, firearms, drugs, fraud, sexual assaults, and homicide—winning convictions in numerous state and federal trials. He successfully argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, served as lead or sole counsel for major cases investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, and lectured on the prosecution of firearms and violent crimes. In addition, Phillip spearheaded community outreach initiatives during his tenure as a federal prosecutor.

Phillip distinguished himself as a federal firearms expert during his tenure as the District of Nevada’s “Project Safe Neighborhoods” Coordinator, as the federal prosecutor tasked with reviewing and facilitating all federal and state firearms- and violent crime-related cases in preparation for federal prosecution. As a result, Phillip gained vast experience in investigating, prosecuting, and trying challenging cases. Phillip was also honored with the U.S. Department of Justice’s “Director’s Award”—which recognizes the nation’s best federal prosecutors—for Superior Performance as an Assistant United States Attorney in 2014.

Education

Yale Law School, J.D., 2005
Article Editor, Yale Journal on Regulation

Stanford University, B.A., (with Distinction) 2002
Member, Junior Class Council

Bar & Court Admissions

  • Nevada (2006)
  • United States District Court for the District of Nevada (2010)
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (2012)

Representative Experience

Successfully litigated a federal case resulting in a published United States Court of Appeals decision in United States v. Chandler, 743 F.3d 648 (9th Cir. 2014), in which the Court issued a favorable ruling in a matter of first impression which had nationwide implications; 

Successfully litigated and tried before a jury complex and multi-defendant federal criminal cases under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act; 

Obtained multiple jury verdicts in felony cases as both a state and federal prosecutor; 

Successfully prosecuted three murder cases in United States District Court; 

Successfully prosecuted four murder cases in state court; 

Successfully prosecuted a violent robbery spree case in United States District Court and obtained 13 consecutive life sentences, a case which was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Howard, 650 Fed.Appx. 466 (9th Cir. 2016); 

Successfully prosecuted a local police officer in United States District Court for violation of a citizen’s civil rights by using excessive force, resulting in a sentence of incarceration for the defendant; 

In addition to numerous federal violent crime, firearms, and drug-related cases, successfully prosecuted federal “white collar” crime cases involving mail and insurance fraud, mail theft, and income tax evasion; 

Successfully defended several cases on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; 

Served as the Chief of the Narcotics and Violent Crime Section at the United States Attorney’s Office; 

Recognized subject matter expert in the area of federal firearms laws; 

Litigated federal misdemeanor bench trials as a federal prosecutor; and

Presently serves as a commissioned naval officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, United States Navy Reserve. 

Most notable client successes include:

  1. United States v. Louis Matthews, et al. This case involved prosecuting multiple defendants for a drug-related homicide where the drug dealer (who was selling 20 pounds of marijuana to two of the defendants) was murdered during the course of the drug deal. All six defendants that were charged in connection with this case either pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial. 
  2. United States v. Abdul Howard. This case involved the prosecution of a defendant who had been charged with committing a total of 14 violent armed robberies with a firearm in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, including two where he discharged the firearm (striking the clerk in the neck in one of them). The defendant was convicted at trial and ultimately sentenced to multiple life sentences for the robberies.
  3. United States v. Tavares Chandler. This case involved an appeal where the two primary issues before the Court—whether the defendant’s prior Nevada felony convictions for Conspiracy to Commit Robbery and Second Degree Kidnapping qualified as “violent felonies” under the federal “Armed Career Criminal Act”—were issues of first impression which had national implications. The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the United States and issued a published opinion.
  4. United States v. Delvin Ward, et al. This case involved the prosecution of a violent street gang for violating federal RICO law by committing murders, robberies, and selling drugs. The case was brought against a total of 10 defendants. Nine defendants pleaded guilty and one defendant was convicted at trial of committing a previously-unsolved murder.
  5. United States v. Nicholas Bickle, et al. This case involved the prosecution of three defendants for conspiring to sell fully-automatic machine guns and other weapons on the black market. One of the defendants (Bickle) was a U.S. Navy SEAL and had been responsible for smuggling machine guns and pistols from Iraq back into the United States. Bickle then conspired with the other two defendants to sell these weapons, which ended up in them unwittingly selling some to an undercover ATF agent. Bickle had also stolen C-4 explosives from his base in San Diego. Bickle took the case to trial and was convicted; the other defendants pleaded guilty. I received a prestigious national award from the United States Department of Justice for the successful prosecution of this case.

Awards & Recognitions

2013 Nominee for the United States Department of Justice “Director’s Award” for “Superior Performance as Part of a Litigative Team”;

Recipient of 2014 U.S. Department of Justice “Director’s Award” for “Superior Performance as an Assistant United States Attorney – Criminal Division”;

2016 and 2017 Nominee for the United States Department of Justice “Director’s Award” for “Superior Performance as an Assistant United States Attorney – Criminal Division.”

Professional & Community Activities

Member, American Bar Association;

Commissioner, American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession; and

Barrister, Howard D. McKibben Chapter of the American Inn of Court.

Published Opinions

United States v. Chandler, 743 F.3d 648 (9th Cir. 2014). This case involved an appeal where the two primary issues before the Court—whether the defendant’s prior Nevada felony convictions for Conspiracy to Commit Robbery and Second Degree Kidnapping qualified as “violent felonies” under the federal “Armed Career Criminal Act”—were issues of first impression which had national implications. The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the United States.

Events & Speaking Engagements

In January 2019, taught a CLE course to the Clark County District Attorney’s Office regarding federal firearms and violent crime laws and the Project Safe Neighborhoods Program.