Nevada panel says some felony charges are ripe for reform

CARSON CITY — An advisory commission waded into the intricacies of Nevada’s criminal justice system Wednesday, considering whether more than three dozen crimes listed as Category B felonies should be reduced to lesser offenses.

The Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice identified Category B felonies as ripe for reform in May after a consultant’s report said half of Nevada’s inmate population are doing time for such crimes.

Under Nevada law, more than 200 crimes are considered a B felony, which requires a minimum of a year in prison and varying maximums up to 20 years. Most carry a sentence of one to six years.

The commission, chaired by Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty, will make recommendations to the 2017 Legislature.

Members of the commission include judges, prosecutors, public defenders, legislators and law enforcement. They began with a list of 37 Category B felonies to consider for reclassification.

Many are being weighed for downgrading to Category C felonies for first offenses, which carry possible sentences of one to five years.

According to the Nevada Department of Corrections, the 37 offenses are referenced 4,592 times in the judgment of convictions among the current inmate population. Officials noted one inmate could have multiple offenses.

Burglary accounts for the most, with 1,476 active sentences being served.

The next largest group was drug trafficking of schedule 1 drugs, a category that includes heroin, ecstasy and LSD, in quantities of 4 grams to 14 grams. More than 1,100 active sentences are being served on that charge. A conviction does not allow probation or a suspended sentence.

Commission members appeared in agreement that Nevada’s drug laws are outdated, rooted in the 1980s era of the war on drugs.

“We are attacking the drug problem from a 1985 perspective rather than what’s going on now,” said Philip Kohn, Clark County public defender and commission member.

State Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, questioned how the quantities to constitute trafficking were arrived at in the law.

He and others also said state law and penalties should reflect differences for personal use versus trafficking for sale or to harm others, such as date rape drugs.

“I think there needs to be better information on what is a trafficking amount,” Hardesty said. “To me, trafficking is an act … regardless of the quantity.”

He said how a drug is used should be part of the sentencing consideration.

The commission will continue the discussion at a later meeting.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Find @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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