Bills address habitual offenders, big retail theft |

Bills address habitual offenders, big retail theft

Associated Press

Efforts to curb massive retail thefts and bar Nevada prosecutors from adding charges post-verdict were launched Monday in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, D-Las Vegas, introduced Assembly Bill 102, the organized retail crimes bill, and Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas, introduced AB97, which prevents prosecutors from adding a habitual offender punishment after a conviction unless an exception applies.

Both bills had multiple supporters and opponents.

“This plugs a hole that’s existed for years,” defense attorney Scott Coffee said of AB97. “It puts the cards on the table before the trial which drives negotiations.”

Individuals on trial with two or more prior felony convictions are subject to habitual offender punishment, which adds prison time. Currently, prosecutors do not have to announce if they intend to pursue the habitual offender penalty, and they can even pursue the penalty after a verdict.

AB97 would require prosecutors to decide they are going to file for habitual offender status within 30 days of the individual’s arraignment. But Coffee told committee members the bill’s backers would accept a later file date, so long as it’s before the trial.

“It’s hard for the defense to advise if they should take a plea deal if they don’t know what’s coming,” Coffee said.

But district attorney representatives said it’s not common for prosecutors to file for habitual offender status after a verdict unless there are extreme circumstances.

“I can count on one hand the number of cases I’ve done it in, and in every case, the defense attorney was well aware beforehand,” Noreen DeMonte of the Clark County district attorney’s office told committee members via a live video feed to Las Vegas.

DeMonte gave the example of Raymond Sharp, a Las Vegas pimp who was arrested on 18 counts after witnesses described a gruesome scene involving a girl Sharp had forced into prostitution. After he was convicted, prosecutors found out details of Sharp’s lengthy criminal history and charged him as being a habitual criminal. He was given a life sentence without parole on that conviction.

AB97 does allow for post-verdict applications, but it requires “good cause” and is up to a judge. DeMonte told lawmakers that shouldn’t be left to discretion.

Still, the ability for the state to add a charge after the fact just doesn’t seem right, Coffee said.

“Telling people the potential time they are facing just seems fair,” he said.

The other piece of legislation presented Monday, AB102, seeks to change the definition of organized retail theft. Organized retail theft is currently defined as an operation by three or more people who steal at least $3,500 worth of merchandise in a 90-day period.

This bill seeks to change that statue to cover individuals who steal merchandise with the intent to sell the items, and it aims to lower the threshold to $2,500.

“We shouldn’t focus on how many people are involved, we should focus on the intent to resell,” Thomas Andersson, an organized retail theft specialist for Albertson’s, told committee members.

Lawmakers questioned the need to expand the statute when burglary covers the act of an individual stealing from a store and carries the same criminal consequences as organized retail theft.

The bill would help prosecutors apply the most applicable charges for crimes, John Jones of the Nevada District Attorney Association told committee members.

“We want as many tools as available to mirror a crime as it was committed,” he said.

Expanding the statute and giving prosecutors greater flexibility to catch criminals could have a ripple effect, said Ryan Haddrill with Target stores.

“If we can get that one person off the street a little bit longer, I think it might deter others,” Haddrill said.