Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty says Parole and Probation is so far behind in producing the reports judges need to sentence convicted felons, he worries those defendants’ constitutional rights are being violated.
The comments came at the end of a lengthy discussion about the Pre-Sentence Investigation reports and the approaching impact of a new law mandating those reports be produced on even tighter deadlines.
P&P Chief Bernie Curtis told the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice that the new law was created to give defense lawyers a heads-up on what their client faces before sentencing so errors and omissions can be fixed. It starts by requiring that the lawyers get the PSI report a week ahead, then moves to 14 days and, by Oct. 1, requires defense counsel to have reports on their clients 30 days before sentencing. That will be pretty much impossible to comply with without added staff, Hardesty said.
The reports detail a defendant’s criminal as well as personal history, family background and other things in an attempt to tell judges how likely the person is to be a danger to society or re-offend. Judges rely heavily on those reports in determining sentences, Hardesty said.
Curtis said that when AB423 was introduced, his division advised the Legislature it would require adding 21 people to his PSI staff at a cost of $902,000 over the biennium. That fiscal note disappeared when the bill was passed and he received no added writers to handle the load, he said.
Curtis added that since the recession and economic crunch began in Nevada, his division’s staffing has dropped from 532 to about 460, but he added that most other state agencies have faced similar cuts due to the state’s tight finances.
Clark County Public Defender Phil Kohn said the standard was to sentence a defendant 30 days after conviction or entry of plea in criminal cases.
“It’s frustrating using 30 days as a benchmark when we know we get at least 60 days down here in Clark County,” he said.
Kohn said the Clark County jail tells him it was taking 80 days from plea to sentencing as of September because of delays in getting the PSI report.
District Judge David Barker said he was accepting pleas from defendants Wednesday morning before coming to the commission meeting and setting sentencing dates for them.
“I have great respect for Parole and Probation, but it’s very frustrating,” he said. “About a month ago, I had eight sentencings and had eight requests for continuance. I didn’t do a single sentencing that day.”
The problem “has a rippling effect through the rest of the criminal justice system,” Hardesty said. But the biggest concern is for the defendant’s constitutional right to be sentenced in a timely fashion, he said.
“We really have to address this immediately,” he said. “This is a serious problem of deprivation of constitutional rights.”
Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson pointed out that, before the 2013 Legislature, the commission sent a letter to Gov. Brian Sandoval saying P&P was understaffed and underfunded to do its job. He said the new law will compound that problem and suggested a similar letter to the Interim Finance Committee urging it to do something about P&P’s staffing needs.
One of the problems in getting the reports done is the lack of dispositions detailing these defendants’ criminal histories, Curtis said. Some courts, he said, simply aren’t filing those dispositions, making it very difficult to complete reports on time.
Hardesty asked him for a report spelling out which courts aren’t following the rules, saying the Supreme Court has the power to fix that.