Geoff Dornan

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February 22, 2014
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Court overturns sentence in late-arrival case

The Supreme Court on Friday overturned the sentence imposed on a defendant who was late because he was arranging day care for his 3-year-old.

When Nelson Clark arrived, Washoe District Judge Elliott Stattler allowed the prosecution to throw out his plea bargain agreement and argue for a much stiffer sentence.

Clark arrived in court before adjournment and asked that the plea bargain be honored, but the court ruled he had failed to appear because he wasn’t there when the case was called.

“Under the circumstances presented, we conclude that the district court abused its discretion by determining that Clark’s late appearance constituted a failure to appear,” the panel of justices Jim Hardesty, Michael Douglas and Michael Cherry wrote. They also said Stattler was wrong to let the prosecutor argue for a harsher sentence and ordered that he receive a new sentencing hearing before a district judge.

In addition, the same panel of justices overturned a conviction imposed on Charles Edward McDonald because his lawyer failed to seek a competency hearing and the possibility of an insanity defense.

The Clark County judge failed to appoint counsel or hold an evidentiary hearing for McDonald.

The Supreme Court panel said McDonald faced a potentially complex trial because of the competency issues, and the court was aware of those mental health issues. In addition, McDonald was determined mentally incompetent in another district court case.

“Also weighing in favor of the appointment of post-conviction counsel is the fact that appellant was adjudicated a habitual criminal and is serving a significant sentence of 80-20 years,” the justices wrote.

That, they concluded, warrants providing him with a lawyer and a new hearing in the case.

In that case, Douglas dissented, saying appointment of counsel post-conviction is discretionary and that McDonald, from the record, did not appear to have mental issues that prevented him from understanding his case.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Feb 22, 2014 12:31AM Published Feb 22, 2014 12:31AM Copyright 2014 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.