CARSON CITY — Prosecutors and defense attorneys clashed Monday, but not in a courtroom.
They were in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, where lawmakers heard testimony about Assembly Bill 376, sponsored by Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas. The bill would overhaul and set into statute the discovery process used by attorneys during criminal cases.
The bill would require attorneys to exchange all materials that are discoverable at least 30 days before a trial starts. That includes all information and records from law enforcement agencies.
In legal jargon, “discovery” in a criminal trial is the process by which defense attorneys receive information that police and prosecutors have obtained about a case. Legal precedent requires prosecutors to turn over evidence that is exculpatory, meaning it could favor the defendant.
The bill also requires the court to dismiss a case if the state has acted in bad faith to destroy, lose or fail to provide materials subject to discovery. A similar piece of legislation is sponsored by Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, in the Assembly.
Anna Clark, a deputy in the Clark County public defender’s office, spoke in support of AB376, saying it would “streamline the criminal justice process” and help ensure “overall fairness.”
Sometimes, new evidence emerges, she said, forcing delays and requiring victims and witnesses to make multiple trips to the courthouse.
Supporters also pointed to Review-Journal coverage in 2014 of a case of a Las Vegas man who spent eight years awaiting trial for sexual assault charges. Only when the trial was almost ready to begin did defense attorneys receive detective notes written in 2006 that doubted the validity of statements from the accusers. That case was dismissed.
“What we are trying to do policy-wise is just make sure things like this do not occur,” said John Piro, a representative of the Clark County public defender’s office.
Christopher Lalli, an assistant prosecutor for the Clark County district attorney’s office, said the office opposes the bill.
“The current system is a good and fair one,” he said.
Lalli also said the bill would create an unfunded mandate and require prosecutors to investigate mitigating evidence in criminal cases. He also disputed defense attorneys’ claims that the legislation simply puts existing obligations into law, calling it “patently false information.”
Chris Hicks, Washoe County’s district attorney and president of the Nevada District Attorney’s Association, also opposed the measure.
“It’s an extreme remedy seeking a problem,” he said. “It’s frankly a game-changer.”
Contact Ben Botkin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-461-0661. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.