Neil A. Rombardo: Death penalty decisions should never be rushed
The Aug. 29 “opinion” questioning the district attorney’s decision-making in a pending death penalty case reveals a lack of understanding of the criminal justice system. Whenever a crime occurs where the death penalty must be considered, the law requires the District Attorney’s Office to consider the victim, the community and the defendant. The real cause for alarm is that anyone would suggest such a decision be rushed.
As a prosecutor, it is a violation of my ethical code to speak of an ongoing case. As a result, I will speak of death penalty cases in general terms.
First, as a representative of the people of Nevada, it is an ethical prosecutor’s job to review every piece of evidence, which can amount to thousands of pages, hundreds of photos and dozens of audio and video recordings, before deciding on whether someone should be put to death.
Second, the law permits a prosecutor to make a decision regarding the death penalty 30 days after the preliminary hearing. Any good prosecutor knows that valuable information is obtained during a preliminary hearing — information that should be considered when someone has been murdered and someone else’s life is at stake.
Third, the Nevada Supreme Court requires that a defendant receive two lawyers for every murder until a decision has been made regarding the death penalty. However, what is lost upon the opinion writer is that it is commonplace for two attorneys to be appointed to a murder case whether the death penalty is being considered or not. And, in the long run, the use of two attorneys actually saves taxpayer money because appeal issues are reduced at the beginning of the process, which is where the real money is spent on these types of cases.
Fourth, and here is where it is easy for senseless political attacks, the opinion writer is wholly unaware of what this administration does to resolve these types of cases in a manner that insures justice and saves taxpayer dollars. For example, just this morning, as a result of lengthy negotiations between the District Attorney’s Office and defense counsel, two of the four defendants in the case mentioned by the opinion writer elected to waive their preliminary hearing in accordance with a resolution of the case. In the end, the facts will show that this office did the right thing by seeking justice for the victim, the victim’s family, the community, and the defendant or defendants in a cost-effective manner.
With regard to the use of taxpayer money, the current district attorney’s administration has created the following: (1) services to help victims and witnesses navigate their way through the judicial process; (2) the Gang Response Intervention, Prevention, and Suppression (GRIPS) program, which has decreased violent gang activity and created community-outreach programs; (3) the Stop Abuse of the Vulnerable and Elderly (SAVE) program, which raises awareness about abuse of the vulnerable and elderly and has resulted in the prosecution of those who prey on the vulnerable and elderly; (4) vertical prosecution, a system in which the same prosecutor handles a case from beginning to end, reducing costs and promoting efficient use of personnel and resources; and (5) at the encouragement of the district attorney, the Board of Supervisors voted to become self-insured, allowing the city to manage its own risk. All of these policies and decisions have resulted in increased services to citizens and saved taxpayer money. These same policies demonstrate fiscally responsible leadership on criminal justice issues and legal public-policy issues.
In conclusion, ask yourself this, “If my loved one was murdered or my loved one faced the death penalty, would I want the district attorney to do the right thing, or would I want him to rush his decision?” The opinion writer suggests the decision should be rushed. I stand by our decision to do the right thing.
Neil A. Rombardo is the district attorney for Carson City.