Domestic violence punishment stiffened

CARSON CITY - In a decision that divided justices along gender lines, the Nevada Supreme Court has issued a ruling that will mean more punishment for many convicted of battery in domestic violence cases.

Justice Bill Maupin joined the three women on the Supreme Court in the 4-3 decision against a Reno man. The other three men on the high court dissented.

The case involves a 1997 law that created the crime of battery constituting domestic violence, a misdemeanor. But the punishment increases with each conviction within a seven-year period, with the third conviction becoming a felony.

Justice Deborah Agosti, who wrote the majority opinion, said legislators intended that convictions predating the law's Jan. 1, 1998, effective date could be used to enhance penalties in later cases - even though the law can be interpreted differently.

Justice Myron Leavitt dissented, saying the majority ruling isn't unreasonable - but the law is ambiguous and should be interpreted narrowly and in favor of a defendant.

Leavitt, joined by Chief Justice Bob Rose and Justice Cliff Young, added there was no notice that a simple battery that occurred before January 1998 could be used to enhance a battery that constitutes domestic violence into a felony.

The case involved Robert B. English, arrested in May 1998 for battering his live-in girlfriend by throwing a platter of spaghetti at her, pushing her to the floor and trying to pinch her nose.

English had previous convictions in February 1998 and September 1995. Since it was his third offense in seven years, the charge was elevated to a felony, and he was sentenced to one to three years in prison.


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