Nevada Supreme Court chief justice urges bail reform
Chief Justice Michael Cherry on Wednesday urged the Nevada Legislature to support efforts to improve representation to indigents, change laws and rules governing guardianships and back bail reform.
Cherry gave the biennial state of the judiciary speech to a joint session of the Assembly and Senate saying the judiciary continues to look for innovative ways to improve access to justice.
“In urban counties, defendants can count on a public defender to provide prompt representation,” he said. “However, in rural parts of the state, indigent defendants may sit in jail waiting for an attorney while witness memories fade and the case grows cold.”
“We must do better providing representation to rural defendants,” he said. “They are just as deserving of representation as their urban neighbors.”
He called on the legislators to form and fund an Indigent Defense Commission to drive those improvements.
Cherry praised the expansion of Nevada’s specialty courts, which got a $3 million budget increase last session that’s continued forward in the proposed 2018-2019 budget. He said those courts are breaking the social patterns of defendants such as drug use and alcoholism and helping them be successful in society.
A major effort, he said, is the recommended changes in guardianship in Nevada.
He said the study panel has proposed 16 changes to state law and 14 judicial rule changes he said “will go a long way to improve Nevada’s guardianship system.”
Abuses by guardians of those who can no longer care for themselves have been a growing issue in the state.
On the study of bail and pre-trial release of defendants, Cherry said a pilot program has now been operating seven months in Clark, Washoe and White Pine counties and is proving successful. The traditional bail system, he said, resulted in those without money sitting in jail far too long.
“Too many people lost jobs and homes because they were forced to sit in jail,’ he said.
The pilot program, he said, uses evidence-based practices to determine who should be released from jail before trial and he said that system has shown it can identify the higher and lower risk defendants. Studies during the process of developing that system indicated in a majority of cases, it was appropriate to release defendants without hitting them with huge amounts of bail and the vast majority showed up for court as ordered.
He also said the Intermediate Appellate Court with three justices is working well to reduce the load on the Supreme Court, handling some 700 cases in 2016. But he served notice in the next session they’ll undoubtedly be asking for more appellate justices to form a northern panel of three.
Cherry said the workload on Nevada’s judicial system is growing every year. He said when he first started practice in Nevada 47 years ago, there were five Supreme Court Justices and 18 district judges in the state. Now, he said, there are seven on the Supreme Court, three intermediate appellate justices, 82 district judges and 26 Senior Judges along with 97 justice and municipal court judges.