Rural criminal defense agency proposed for Nevada

A study commission has recommended a new agency be created to cure the shortcomings in indigent criminals not getting help from lawyers who aren’t adequately trained and don’t have the resources in rural Nevada.

David Carroll, consultant to the Nevada Right to Counsel Commission, Thursday said his 156-page report found “systemic deficiencies” in the criminal defense system which differs from county to county.

In Carson City and Storey County, the state public defender system provides representation for poor persons charged with a crime. Carroll said that office “suffers from undue political influence and inadequate funding.”

Other rural counties have different structures. In some, there are excessive caseloads; these lawyers lack the use of investigators; mental health services; and they must use their private staffs to handle the cases. In some cases, the indigent defendant isn’t getting a lawyer.

“There is a pervasive lack of independent defense investigations in all but the most serious felony cases,” said the Carroll evaluation.

The commission Thursday argued for nearly two hours on creation of a state board whether it should be advisory or regulatory. And there would be a staff of attorneys, headed by an appointee selected by the governor for the new board to set the standards and training requirements for these defense lawyers.

Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell broke the deadlock, suggesting the proposed Board of Indigent Defense Services be regulatory with the staff reporting to it. And any standards and new training proposed by the board should be paid by the state, above what the local governments are now supporting.

“In this world, money talks,” Crowell told the 13-member commission that was created by the 2017 Legislature and chaired by Supreme Court Justice Michael Cherry.

The proposed board would arrange for continuing education for defense of indigent defendants; establish a system so these private lawyers get reimbursement for expenses for expert witnesses and investigators and obtain information of the caseloads and salaries paid to these lawyers.

The study commission suggested the new proposed board work with the university law school “to determine the incentives to attract attorneys to work in indigent defense, especially in rural counties.” The commission had previously talked about loan forgiveness for these students but changed its recommendation.

This new Indigent Defense Services Board would oversee the efforts of counties in providing adequate counsel and to devise a plan to take care of any deficiencies.

The study commission will have another meeting in October or November to review the final draft of the bill to the Legislature. And there must be a meeting with the new governor on financing the new board and staff.

The governor would appoint the executive director of the staff but the regulatory board would have the power to remove him or her for unsatisfactory performance.


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