Bill: Let defendants of meritless prosecution seek costs
Sens. Greg Brower and Aaron Ford on Thursday asked the Judiciary Committee to change Nevada law to allow criminal defendants victimized by bad prosecutors to ask for court costs.
SB186 would allow people to be reimbursed for their costs in defending against a criminal case, “if the judge determined it to be vexatious, frivolous or in bad faith,” said Brower, a Republican.
Under existing Nevada law, he said prosecutors effectively have absolute immunity from being sued over who and how they choose to prosecute individuals or businesses.
“Prosecutorial abuse of power can have a devastating effect,” he said.
While Brower said the prosecutors he knows are good and would never do something like that, “they are human beings susceptible to errors in judgment.” He said simple errors would never rise to the level of awarding damages under SB186 but he said if there is even one such case, the defendant should have this law in place to recover costs of fighting the criminal charges.
He and Ford said the legislation is modeled after the federal law enacted in 1997 which permits defendants in cases that should never have been filed to seek court costs from the government.
“The target is such misconduct should be made whole, at least monetarily,” he said.
Ford, a Democrat, signed on to the bill with Brower saying it makes sense to bring what’s in federal law to Nevada so a judge who determines a prosecution to be improper can make that person whole financially.
Brower said the federal law has worked well and proves this type of law doesn’t “open the flood gates.” He said there have probably been only about 100 such cases at the federal level and just nine he knows of in which the judge awarded the defendant costs.
“I would say to an honest prosecutor, you have nothing to fear,” he said.
“I am confident our judges will recognize meritless claims and dismiss them.”
Supporters included officials from the public defender’s offices in Washoe and Clark counties who asked defendants represented by public defenders or appointed counsel also be allowed to seek cost reimbursements to their offices.
There was no direct opposition to the bill. John Jones of the Nevada District Attorneys Association said the group was neutral on the measure.
The committee took no action on SB186.