Felons’ sentences ignored guidelines

RENO — More than 12 percent of felony defendants sentenced in Nevada last year received punishments that fell outside limits set by law, according to a university study.

The report from the Grant Sawyer Center for Justice Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno found that 1,364 defendants, 12.5 percent, received a minimum or maximum sentence beyond what was allowed by statute.

“There were folks being sentenced on a one-to-five to a maximum that exceeded five years,” researcher Matt Leone said Monday as he presented the finding to the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice. “They were given one-to-10 when the statute said one-to-five.”

That figure was challenged by Clark County District Judge Douglas Herndon, who said the researchers might have failed to consider certain factors, including varying punishment levels or habitual criminal cases.

“I find that unbelievable,” Herndon told commission members. “This is a terribly vague number … that is not representing what is actually happening.”

But Leone said his group reviewed the reports extensively and “still came up with the same numbers.”

Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty, chairman of the commission, said he has heard appeals based on sentences that were outside the range set by statute, “so it does happen.”

He said he and others would help review the cases and determine if other factors were at play.

The UNR group reviewed sentences since 1995, when the Legislature passed laws to ensure that inmates paid appropriate punishments.

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