Articles Posted in Inmate Rights

On April 9, 2020, the Nevada Supreme Court issued a published opinion in the case of Valdez-Jimenez v. Eighth Judicial District Court, 136 Nev. Adv. Op. 20.  This decision made an impactful change to the procedure and restrictions in place that allow Nevada Courts to issue cash bail decisions for individuals awaiting trial.  Bail decisions are, in theory, based on an individual’s flight risk and likelihood of future offenses should they be released pending trial – in an attempt to mitigate both the number of crimes being committed and prevent any speedbumps in the trial itself. As a result, a Judge’s choice to increase or decrease a cash bail amount has been based solely on the aforementioned factors.

However, in recent years the concept of cash bail has become one of great controversy. Those accused of crimes are theoretically entitled to a constitutional right of “innocent until proven guilty.” However, low-income individuals have been forced to spend their time in custody until trial simply because they have been unable to afford bail.  Meanwhile, people with financial means who are facing the same charges are allowed to defend the allegations against them while out of custody, simply because they have ability to post a cash or surety bond.

Two particularly topical bail decisions for Jose Valdez-Jimenez and Aaron Willard Frye were brought forward in Nevada, as both defendants had high cash bail amounts set pending their trial and had the petitions to reduce or vacate these amounts denied, even though the courts could not explicitly say why these amounts were set so high. Thus, after reviewing these cases earlier this month, the Nevada Supreme Court issued an opinion which set for a new set of cash bail standards to improve these decisions in a way that makes the Nevada process of justice as fair and equal as possible.

The current COVID-19 crisis is at the forefront of many Nevada citizens’ minds as individuals practice social distancing, wearing safety gear, and working remotely.  One demographic that might be overlooked at this time are individuals who are currently incarcerated. As this public health crisis has developed, it quickly became clear to those involved in the prison systems in Nevada that measures desperately needed to be taken to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus in these populations. While detention centers, jails and prisons have implemented precautions including health screenings, tracking of symptoms, increased sanitation measures and isolation rooms, inmates continue to test positive for COVID-19.

This is a result of jails and prisons generally housing a large number of inmates (most of which share close quarters living spaces) and limited medical staff. However, all incarcerated individuals and detention center employees still maintain a right to life and adequate medical care. As a result, prisons across Nevada have begun to implement a variety of progressive changes to release non-violent inmates with underlying health conditions in order to do their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and “flatten the curve.”

This does not mean that all Nevada jails and prisons are opening their doors for anyone to leave as they please, but instead demonstrates that there is a recognized responsibility on behalf of law makers and law enforcement within the criminal justice system to protect the employees and inmates in their custody. During the onset of this crisis, numerous Nevada criminal defense attorneys began to make appeals to local government officials and the Courts on behalf of the rights of inmates in detention centers.

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