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February 27, 2011

Interesting debate in Nevada over preparation of presentence reports

Rarely does the preparation of presentence reports garner much attention from the media or the legal academy.  For that reason and others, I found really notable this new piece from Nevada headlined "Judges criticize plan on pre-sentence reports."  Here is how the piece begins:

Judges across Nevada have banded together against a plan by Gov. Brian Sandoval, himself a former judge, to make the counties responsible for producing pre-sentence investigation reports on felons -- reports used to determine whether an offender is a threat to the community or safe enough to be released.

Calling the idea "potentially dangerous," the judges say counties can't afford to take over the job of writing these reports, called PSIs, and they would likely disappear, leaving judges without the critical information they need to decide whether an offender should remain behind bars or be let out.

"Sentencing in felony cases would be impossible without the presentence report," said Washoe District Judge Brent Adams.  "Every single trial judge in Nevada opposes this idea.  As a former judge, the governor is well aware of the critical nature of those reports because he relied upon them in every sentencing he did as a federal judge."

"It's dangerous in my mind," added District Judge Andrew Puccinelli of Elko, who, as president of the Nevada District Judge's Association, has written letters to lawmakers on behalf of all of the state's judges blasting the plan.  "I'm not aware of any judge who was contacted by anybody on this."

Heidi Gansert, Sandoval's chief of staff, said the reports are important tools, but said "it's a matter of funding."  Under the governor's proposal, the Division of Parole and Probation would eliminate 77 positions and save $10.4 million over the biennium by moving the investigations to the district courts and ultimately the counties.

"We're streamlining.  We're in the process of prioritizing how we're spending," Gansert said.  "We agree the investigations are important and we recognize it will be difficult for the counties, but we believe the counties should be funding the costs."

Bernard Curtis, director of the Division of Parole and Probation, agreed.  "Everybody's broke.  The state is broke," he said.  "We're not saying the system should go away.  We're not saying it won't be done. Just not by P&P."

But Washoe District Chief Judge Connie Steinheimer said the money simply isn't there at the court or county level.  "I don't know how we could do it," she said.  "We've got a $15 million budget (for the Washoe District Court).  How are we supposed to add another $2 million?"

February 27, 2011 at 01:17 PM | Permalink

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