Assembly panel considers change to Nevada's battery laws

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An Assembly committee heard testimony Monday from prosecutors seeking discretion to plead out domestic violence cases -- a proposal that was attacked by advocates for women and victims.

Prosecutors told the Judiciary Committee that the change, outlined in AB97, would enable the state to still prosecute domestic violence cases when victims don't want to testify against their assailants in court.

Anne Langer, chief deputy district attorney for Carson City, said the change would strengthen Nevada's domestic violence law.

"By giving the discretion back to the prosecutor, we believe we're actually giving the power back to the victim," Langer said.

Sue Meuschke, director of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence, countered that prosecutors currently have discretion when deciding to charge someone with domestic violence.

But after they charge someone, that person can only plead out to a lesser charge if the domestic violence charge isn't supported by probable cause, she said.

Meuschke said that without probable cause, prosecutors shouldn't have charged the person in the first place.

"So if that is true, what discretion do prosecutors need?" Meuschke asked.

Judiciary members also expressed reservations about giving prosecutors the discretion to plead out domestic violence charges.

Judiciary Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, said the 1997 Legislature removed prosecutors' discretion because of complaints that district attorneys were not aggressive enough in prosecuting domestic violence charges.

Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, said he couldn't see how prosecutorial discretion would benefit victims, especially after steps the Legislature has taken in the past 20 years to strengthen the laws.

"We could go the other way if we start taking little steps backward," Carpenter said.

AB97 also would remove one category in the definition of domestic violence that covers assailants who live with alleged victim but are outside a traditional relationship.

Prosecutors said this provision occasionally results in fighting siblings being charged with domestic violence, even though that scenario doesn't fit into what society considers domestic violence and provides for prosecution outside of legislative intent.

Victim advocates opposed the removal, saying it would eliminate an entire category of domestic violence offenders.


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