LAS VEGAS, NV – Those who proposed changes may finally see changes as the Nevada Supreme Court took public commentary Tuesday regarding an overhaul of the state bail system. If this bill passes legislation, judges will begin evaluating based on the crime, the threat risk and whether the defendant could pose a flight risk. From there, bail could be assigned a much lower dollar amount for lower crimes.
This legislation addresses two issues simultaneously. First, low-risk defendants may be able to pay little to nothing to be released awaiting their trial; second, it could lower the population of packed jails across the state.
Nevada Needs an Impartial System
Under the current system, defendants incarcerated for misdemeanors and low-level felonies may sit for months before their cases are heard in Clark County. Violent offenders who have not been assigned bail could be housed with first-time arrestees, posing a significant safety risk to these defendants. This means nonviolent offenders could be seriously injured awaiting trial simply because they are indigent.
Under the new proposal, Nevada would adopt a risk-based model of evaluating defendants. Factors that will be taken under advisement by judges include the defendant’s current work status, their criminal history, responsibility to minor children, whether they will abscond justice, and the nature of the offense. From there, bail will commensurate with the risk assessment of the defendant.
Several county courts implemented a test program of the proposed risk model in September 2016. Las Vegas Justice Court, Washoe County Justice Court and Washoe County District Court have realized some success since their trial run began, which may provide enough mitigating evidence to pass the proposed change. White County recently joined the pilot program as well.
Advocates of the proposed risk-based model maintained that Nevada’s current system is antiquated since it uses science to determine whether defendants will flee the area or remain local during trial.
Equality May Be an Issue
Challengers disputed validity of all scoring items since many unreasonably segregate people of color and those who lack the financial means to post bail. Some items in the proposed scoring system, including whether an individual was jailed prior to turning 20 or had access to a mobile phone, seem to disenfranchise the poor from having equal access to fair bail schedules.
Bond amounts set by judges based off crimes cause an unfair disadvantage for the working class individual. At present, Nevada is favoring a justice system that punishes the destitute yet sensationalizes drug dealers and those with a financial means. This means individuals flush with cash can purchase their freedom without having their crime or criminal history considered.
Judicial authorities rely on expert testimony from data scientists, psychologists and other professionals with firsthand knowledge of Nevada laws to build scoring systems. Without such input, judges are often left to their own devices when setting bail amounts, which erroneously puts lower risk defendants into the court system for much longer than their crime merits.
At present, Nevada boasts America’s 12th highest incarceration rate, with around 460 inmates per 100,000 distributed throughout the state jail system. Overall, Nevada maintained an incarcerated population of 13,637 people as of 2016.
Opposition to the proposed model added that Assembly Bill 17, rolled out during Monday’s legislative session, offers a different perspective on the bail system. No decision on either Bill has been decided to date.