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Nevada bill could alter plea deal process

A Nevada bill stands to strengthen stipulated plea deals and eliminate any surprises for defendants should a judge decide to deviate from agreed-upon sentences.

Most plea deals don’t include stipulated sentences. Instead, defense attorneys advocate for a sentence and prosecutors advocate for another. Even if both parties do agree, a judge has the ability to override the recommended sentence and issue a punishment however the judge sees fit.

Assembly bill 148 — introduced in committee Friday — would eliminate a judge’s ability to hijack stipulated sentencing hearings and send defendants, defense attorneys and prosecutors back into negotiation.

Even if the parties never come to another agreement, the defendant would never have to lock in a plea, and the case would go to trial.

“Nothing is lost, per se,” John Piro, chief deputy Clark County public defender, said, testifying in favor of the bill.

Assemblyman Tom Roberts, R-Las Vegas, questioned whether providing defendants with such certainty in stipulated cases could negatively affect victims, citing Marsy’s Law, a bill of rights for victims that voters last November enshrined into the Nevada Constitution.

Piro said victims are always going to have the right to speak at sentencing, and because of Marsy’s Law, the district attorney’s office would actually need to be consulting victims during the negotiation process, which many prosecutors do already.

“The victims will actually get some certainty, as well,” Piro said. “I think what AB 148 is trying to strike at is having certainty for the parties.”

Jennifer Noble, a Washoe County deputy district attorney, testified against the bill.

“I think that this will chill our willingness to stipulate to sentences,” she said.

Noble instead listed remedies for defendants that already exist: withdrawing a plea, claiming ineffective counsel or — if imprisoned — claiming unlawful detention.

Piro argued that those remedies take time and don’t have a history of being very fruitful.

Assemblywoman Sarah Peters, D-Reno, went back and forth with Noble for several minutes before the meeting adjourned without a vote.

“This seems like an argument for — that the process functions if you know the process,” Peters said.

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3801. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

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