Case Study in Bail Reform: Nevada

On February 10, 2017 legislators introduced AB136 on the Assembly Floor in Nevada. AB136 aimed to revise provisions governing bail in certain criminal cases. Governor Brian Sandoval issued a statement on May 26, 2017 vetoing the bill that had recently passed the legislature. In his letter to Honorable Jason Frierson, Speaker of the Nevada State Assembly, Governor Sandoval addressed his concerns with the proposed legislation. He found that the proposed methods for determining whether a defendant should be released from custody unproven without conclusive evidence of their effectiveness. He emphasized the importance of a judge’s discretion in deciding the bail for a criminal defendant based on their experience and expertise. He further stated that he felt the bill did nothing to “enhance the ability of Nevada’s judges to make these determinations in a manner that balances the interests of justice and public safety.”

Understanding Bail Hearing Procedures

Governor Sandoval highlighted the importance of a judge’s discretion at setting bail in his veto letter regarding AB136. To understand why this is a crucial component of criminal procedure, it is important to understand bail hearing procedures. A defendant is entitled the right to a bail hearing. At this bail hearing a judge must weigh a number of considerations in order to determine if bail was appropriately set. A judge may decide to remove the bail condition, increase or decrease the bail amount or even order a defendant to remain in custody without the option to post bail.

Judges often have the difficult task of examining the nature and circumstances of the charges. They must take into consideration if the defendant is flight risk. A judge may look into a defendant’s financial resources and community ties to determine if they may leave the jurisdiction while awaiting trial. They will examine their criminal history and the weight of the evidence against the defendant to determine an appropriate bail amount. Judges will also consider the victim’s rights and any safety risk that the defendant may present to the public-at-large. A judge may never set a bail amount that is excessive or unreasonable.

The Importance of Bail

Governor Sandoval understood the importance of bail when he vetoed AB136 and understood the importance of a judge’s ability to make bail determinations. Legislation should be aimed at aiding judges in the difficult and complex decisions that surround bail instead of hindering them. Bail reform that favors eliminating bail or eliminating a judge’s ability to determine bail does not help the system but instead hinders an already bruised organization.

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Sean Cook

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