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.
This case precedent is significant in that its holding dictates that each Judge must complete on-record due diligence to establish a defendant’s background before making a decision on how bail will be set for said individual, and if monetary bail should be considered. The defendant has the right to a prompt hearing on the matter, where the judge will need to establish if cash bail is necessary in order to stop the defendant from fleeing before trial or committing another crime. Each Judge is required to put all reasons for their bail decision on the record, thus motivating Judges across Nevada to make these decisions as prudent as possible to avoid public scrutiny for being unjust.
There are a few different factors each Judge may take into account to show that a defendant is or is not a danger to the community or a flight risk. As explained in NRS 178.4853, this includes considering the defendant’s length of residence in the community, employment status and history, relationships, character and ties to the community, criminal history, nature of alleged offenses and potential sentence, and the likelihood of additional criminal activity if released.
If upon consideration of the above factors the Judge decides a cash bail amount is still necessary, the Judge is required to evaluate the defendant’s financial situation and ability to pay prior to making a ruling on the monetary amount of the imposed bail. This will result in a notable decrease in excessive bail amounts and low-risk defendants being forced to await their trials in custody. These new standards not only put pressure on Nevada Judges to make just bail decisions, but also put a new burden of proof on the prosecutor to provide in said hearings that the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to his or her community. As described in the Court’s ruling, prosecutors, “must prove by clear and convincing evidence that bail, rather than less restrictive conditions, is necessary to ensure the defendant’s appearance at future court proceedings or to protect the safety of the community”. Conclusively, this change in Nevada law will have a drastic impact on bail decisions in the future and likely result in a decline in cash bail conditions and numerous petitions from those awaiting trial who could not afford their cash bail amounts.
At the law firm of Hofland & Tomsheck, we take pride in staying ahead of legal developments to provide the best possible outcomes for our clients. If you, or someone you know, is currently being held in custody because their financial situation restricts them from providing a bail payment, call our office today to set up a free consultation with experienced Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorney, Josh Tomsheck. Mr. Tomsheck is a Nationally Board-Certified Criminal Defense Attorney who has been recognized by the Nevada State Bar as a Specialist in Criminal Trial Law. We look forward to helping you put these unfortunate situations behind you and helping you get back to your life.