In a 2-1 vote, the Nevada Supreme Court's northern panel has ruled a former sex offender serving time for a non-sexual offense doesn't have to get a psychological panel certification before his parole.
Before sex offenders are released in Nevada, a Psych Panel must certify they are not a serious danger to commit another sex-related offense.
Eric Todd Douglas was originally convicted of attempted sexual assault in 1996. He was later paroled but re-arrested in 2005 on charges of attempted burglary while on parole. He was re-certified for release on the attempted sexual assault charge and began serving his sentence for the attempted burglary. But that certification was a less stringent review designed to move him from one sentence to another, not to release him from prison.
When Douglas became eligible for parole on the burglary charge, he was told he had to go before the Psych Panel again. This time, the panel rejected him and Douglas filed suit saying the parole board had no right to make him go through a psychological evaluation as a sex offender for parole on a non-sexual conviction.
The state argued the law requires a prisoner to get that certification "if that offender has ever been convicted of a crime listed in (statute)."
But Justices Nancy Saitta and Michael Cherry ruled Douglas was right, that the statute, "does not provide authority for requiring Douglas to obtain yet another Psych Panel certification on his attempted burglary charge."
They wrote that the state's interpretation is so broad "it would produce absurd results." The example they cited is a prisoner convicted of a sex crime years ago who had fully discharged his sentence. If that person was convicted of a new crime not sexual in nature, they said it would be absurd to require Psych Panel certification before his release on parole in the new case.
But Justice Bill Maupin disagreed with the ruling, arguing the law as he sees is clearly permits the parole board to demand a new certification when a sex offender is going to be released from prison no matter what his current conviction is for. He cited the statute which says any sex offender certified for parole "who returns to the Department of Corrections may not be paroled unless a panel recertifies him...."
He also cited the portion of the statute saying a Psych Panel can revoke certification at any time and that there is no right for any prisoner to be certified for parole.
While Cherry and Saitta pointed to Douglas's institutional certification when he was parole to the burglary sentence, Maupin said that wasn't as stringent a process since the panel was fully aware Douglas was just moving from one sentence to the next and not being released.
He said the majority decision ""suggests that a more cursory evaluation done to facilitate institutional parole to another sentence is binding so as to preclude additional evaluations clearly allowed under this statute to protect the public."
"That, in my view, effects and absurd result," he concluded.
The attorney general's office is expected to seek a rehearing on the issue by the full seven-member court.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.