In the sentencing process, some defendants are given probation, and others are incarcerated. Can you explain how repeat offenders should be evaluated before sentencing?
Under Nevada law, felonies are divided into categories determined by severity. The most serious crimes are category A felonies; the least serious are category E felonies. A limited number of crimes are not eligible for probation, such as murder and sexual assault. Category E felonies are mandatory probation unless the defendant has two or more prior felony convictions. Except for the few mandatory prison crimes and the category E mandatory probation crimes, the judge has substantial discretion in making sentencing decisions. Regardless of what the defense attorney and the prosecutor agree on, the court always has the last say regarding sentencing.
There are many factors to take into consideration before sentencing anyone, including repeat offenders. In my mind, the most critical factors are the severity of the crime and the criminal history of the defendant. It’s been said that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior.
Elko County is adding a third district judge as the region continues to see high levels of drug abuse and domestic issues. What do you think will be the most time-consuming aspects of your job in the coming term?
Initially, the most time-consuming aspect of the job will be to process the backlog that my predecessor has amassed through her time in office. Currently, there are misdemeanor appeals that have been pending for years, as well as the countless other cases that are awaiting a decision.
Unfortunately, COVID has put a tremendous strain on the judicial system. The Nevada Supreme Court suspended all jury trials in late spring. Only now are jury trials resuming, but for the time being only for criminal cases. When things return to “normal,” the courts will be extremely busy getting caught up from the COVID slowdown.
What can you tell us about the new probation laws that went into effect this year, and what do you think the impact will be on incarceration rates and public safety?
Prior to July 1, 2020, a district court judge could revoke a person’s probation for any violation whatsoever. Now, probation violations are broken down into technical violations and non-technical violations. A technical violation is anything other than absconding, committing a new felony or gross misdemeanor, or committing a select few misdemeanors. There are graduated sanctions for technical violations, and a probationer cannot be revoked until the 4th technical violation. The judge will no longer have the ability to revoke probation for continued drug and alcohol use or failing to complete the requirements of a mental health or substance treatment programs until the 4th violation.
The fact that a probationer could be arrested up to four times before their probation can be revoked will likely significantly increase the incarceration rates in Elko County. These statutory changes endanger the community by tying the court’s hand in how best to deal with the violations. The community needs a judge that places the community’s safety first. The community needs a judge that can make the hard choices. The community needs a judge that can distinguish between lip service and a genuine desire to change. I will be that judge. As the judge, it will be my job to protect the community. I am endorsed by the City of Elko Police Protection Association, the West Wendover Police Officer’s Association, and the Elko County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. Law enforcement believes I’m the best person for the job.
Are there any other aspects of this year’s criminal reform legislation that concern you, or do you have any additional changes you would like to see in the judicial system?
There were many changes to criminal law in the last legislative session, the most troubling of which relates to probation violations, as discussed above. Also concerning is the limitation on the period of probation. Before July 1, 2020, the probationary period for any felony was up to 60 months and 36 months for a gross misdemeanor. This meant that the defendant was closely monitored by the Department of Parole and Probation for up to five years. Now, the state legislature has significantly reduced the probationary period of most crimes. Probation for a gross misdemeanor is now 12 months, a Category E felony 18 months, only for the most serious of offenses will a defendant be supervised for 60 months.
Additionally, the new laws require the Department of Parole and Probation to apply for early discharge after only twelve months if a defendant is in compliance with the terms of their probation. This is dangerous for our community. Many crimes result from untreated drug additions. Significant addiction issues are not going to be resolved in a few months. Addiction is often a life-long battle that requires vigilance to conquer. Many people maintain sobriety while on probation, but often relapse and fall back into those same old habits once released from probation. With the shorted probationary period, we will see that vicious cycle shortened and fewer people within the system achieving meaningful change.
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