CARSON CITY — Nevada lawmakers were asked Tuesday to consider a bill that might have people think twice before giving any aid to a family member who commits a crime.
Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, presented a bill to the Assembly Judiciary Committee that would trim the list of people exempted from being charged as an accessory to a crime.
Currently, if a husband, wife, brother, sister, parent, grandparent, child or grandchild aids or conceals a relative after that relative commits a crime, the maximum penalty is a misdemeanor for obstruction of justice. The statute has been unaltered since 1911.
The bill, Assembly Bill 116, would remove all such exemptions from the statute except for husband-wife relationships, though Benitez-Thompson said talks were under way to determine whether the exemption for married couples also should be altered.
She told the committee the bill is intended to clarify the law in cases when law enforcement officers have reason to question the actions of family members after a crime.
Benitez-Thompson recounted the 2010 Reno murder of Eric Preimesberger and the subsequent coverup by his wife, Kristi Preimesberger. At trial, Kristi Preimesberger said she witnessed her husband’s murder, and helped clean up the crime scene, hide the body and buy a freezer used as Eric Preimesberger’s coffin. She also concealed the location of Eric Preimesberger’s killer, Timothy Morgan, her brother.
Under the 1911 law, she faced only a misdemeanor charge because she was Morgan’s sister and enjoyed exemption status even though she clearly was an accessory after the fact.
Amendments are expected to determine appropriate sentencing — likely something in the range of up to a year in prison — and to define what level of aid is permissible, Benitez-Thompson said.
Opponents said the law could criminalize people who inadvertently get caught up in someone else’s misdeeds by nature of their relationship.
“By taking the enumerated people out, it criminalizes people who are not actually criminals when our prisons are already overflowing,” said Vanessa Spinazola, a lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.
She said if the spousal relationship is left protected in the law, then domestic partnerships should be considered, too.
Benitez-Thompson said the bill’s intent is not to make criminals of family members who interact with a relative who has committed a crime unless they intended to assist the relative in avoiding arrest or covering up the crime.
She said she did not want to return to the Legislature in two years and see that relatives are being unfairly prosecuted for their action or inaction.