LAS VEGAS — The Nevada Supreme Court has rebuked a Clark County district judge for ordering a suspect jailed for having a bad attitude.
Video footage of the 70-second hearing for the drug suspect raised questions about the exchange between Judge Doug Smith and Juan Perez, who speaks with a heavy Spanish accent, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported (http://tinyurl.com/d2bkhwg ) Monday.
A total of only 55 words were spoken at the Jan. 16 hearing before Smith sent Perez to jail for 15 days. At a later hearing, Smith ordered bail raised from $3,000 to $1 million.
The judge apparently was upset with the response when he asked Perez why he hadn’t stayed in contact with his attorney. The newspaper said the footage it received under the state’s public records law suggested Perez generally cooperated.
Judge: “Your attorney has withdrawn. How come you haven’t stayed in contact with your attorney?”
Perez: “Not helping me.”
Judge: “No, he withdrew.”
Perez: “OK. I’ll have to get another lawyer.”
Perez: “I’ll have to get another lawyer.”
Judge: “Well, good, we’ll find you one.”
Perez: “Thank you.”
Judge: “You’re remanded. Thank you. An attitude like that, you can sit in jail.”
Perez remained in jail until the Nevada Supreme Court rebuked Smith earlier this month, ordered his bail returned to $3,000, and said the case must be given to another judge.
Smith has said he is prohibited from commenting on a pending case.
Perez’s case dates to January 2010, when he was charged with drug trafficking after authorities said he was found with two baggies containing more than 20 grams of cocaine.
Perez posted $3,000 bail and was released from jail. He hired veteran defense lawyer John Momot, who withdrew nearly three years after Perez’s arrest.
After he was jailed, Perez apologized to Smith at a later hearing and asked to be released on the original $3,000 bail, which previously had been approved by a Las Vegas justice of the peace. Standard bail for a drug trafficking count is $10,000.
Citing the use of myriad names and Social Security numbers by Perez and a history of drug trafficking convictions, Smith set bail at $1 million.
Perez’s new lawyer, deputy public defender David Lopez-Negrete, appealed Smith’s decision to the high court.
Three justices found that Smith had violated Perez’s constitutional rights and abused his discretion “by remanding (Perez) to custody and setting bail at an excessive amount in order to punish him for having an ‘attitude’ during a court proceeding.”
Records show Perez posted bail and was released from jail after the high court’s ruling.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have filed notice they will seek habitual criminal status for Perez. A hearing is set for April 30. If convicted and deemed a habitual criminal, Perez could face a life prison term.