89°F
weather icon Clear

Cash bail debate roils Carson City hearing Thursday

A group of lawmakers hopes to reduce Nevada’s reliance on the cash bail system for people awaiting trial.

Assembly Bill 325, which was heard Thursday in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, would overhaul the state’s bail system by making expensive cash bail the last resort in most cases, bill sponsor Ozzie Fumo, D-Las Vegas, said.

“This bill is not intended to end cash bail in Nevada,” Fumo said while presenting the bill. “All we’re looking for the judges to do is to look at cash, or to monetary conditions of release, as the last alternative. Not the first.”

The marathon four-hour hearing saw criminal defense attorneys and criminal justice reform advocates debate the merits of the reliance on cash bail with prosecutors, law enforcement and bail bondsmen themselves.

Underscoring the heated emotions both sides have for the bill, a bail bondsman attempted to have a supporter of the bill arrested by Legislative Police in Las Vegas after learning the person had a misdemeanor warrant.

Supporters of the bill, including Las Vegas defense attorneys Tom Pitaro — who is Fumo’s law partner — and Robert Langford — who ran unsuccessfully for district attorney in Clark County last year — argued that people arrested for nonviolent misdemeanor crimes are often required to post thousands of dollars in bail or be forced to stay in jail until their trial, which disproportionately affects people of color and the poor.

“The poor stay in jail, and the rich can get out,” Pitaro said.

Incarceration before conviction

And the system that keeps people in jail, Pitaro said, goes against the basic assumption that underlies the American criminal justice system: People are assumed innocent until proven guilty.

“That presumption of innocence fundamentally means that we do not punish people for crimes until they are convicted,” Pitaro said. “What is happening with the bail system is that incarceration is coming before conviction, and that’s the fundamental issue we’ve been dealing with.”

The bill drew a broad group of supporters that included public defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, the Culinary Union, the Mass Liberation Project as well as Americans for Prosperity, a conservative Koch Network-funded organization.

Holly Welborn, policy director for the ACLU of Nevada, said the bill is modeled to follow New Jersey’s bail reforms.

New Jersey’s reform went into effect in late 2016. Within six months, the state saw its pretrial jail population reduced by nearly one-fifth.

Law enforcement representatives, district attorneys and bail bondsmen all expressed their opposition to the bill.

Carson City District Attorney Jason Woodbury said that he was concerned about the bill’s requirement that a pretrial release hearing be held within 48 hours of a defendant’s initial appearance in court and expressed worry that victims’ rights are not addressed in the language.

“The logisitical requirements of the hearing imposed by the bill are frankly impossible,” Woodbury said.

But Woodbury added that he doesn’t want his opposition to the bill to be taken as opposition to the idea of bail reform, as long as public safety and the voice of crime victims are taken into consideration.

“Scientific and technological advances provide new opportunities to fine-tune and improve that balance between the presumption of innocence and public safety,” Woodbury said.

Incident in Las Vegas

At one point during the hearing, which was videoconferenced to the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas where several people testified, a bail bondsman approached Legislative Police demanding that one of the bill’s supporters be arrested, Legislative Counsel Bureau director Rick Combs said in an email.

The officer informed the Las Vegas city marshal’s office, which confimed the warrant but told the officer that it would not be sending anyone to the state office building to serve it.

Combs said it was a situation that Legislative Police “had not contemplated and had not included in our training.”

Combs said he does not think the officer did anything wrong but said that they will advise their officers going forward that the person complaining about warrants should take their issue to the proper authorities and that “we will not be taking any action with regards to reports on misdemeanor warrants.”

Combs said that police never threatened to arrest anyone in attendance for the hearing.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Sisolak signs public records reform bill into law

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bill that strengthens Nevada’s public records law, making it easier and cheaper for people to get public records and providing for fines if public agencies willfully flout the law.