By Darcy Spears
Carlos Real was released on his own recognizance after an arrest in January for battery domestic violence.
He was arrested for the same thing 12 days later and released for free. Again.
It’s not a unique scenario in our pre-trial justice system.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson remembers, “There was a case a few years ago where a man was accused of domestic battery against his wife. And we had argued that this person remain in custody. And the judge released this person and he went out and killed his wife and daughter.”
Next week marks the one-year anniversary of Nevada’s pre-trial risk assessment tool, which is supposed to ensure greater fairness and consistency.
The Nevada Supreme Court ordered judges to use the tool to help predict a defendant’s likelihood to re-offend or fail to appear in court.
Chuck Muth of Citizen Outreach explains the theory. “You should put people behind bars who we’re afraid of, not people who we’re mad at.”
But in practice, D.A. Wolfson says, “The reality suggests that maybe it should be re-examined.”
Some call it checklist justice. Defendants get a score and the higher the score, the higher the risk.
It examines things like prior arrests, age at first arrest, employment status, residential status, substance abuse, whether they have a verified cell phone and prior failures to appear.
“And in calendar year 2019, 37-percent of those people who were rated high risk failed to appear for their next court date. That’s one out of three,” said Wolfson.
And one out of five committed another crime while on pre-trial release.
“It’s too high,” Wolfson laments, adding that there are some vital things the tool misses.
“If a person is arrested and then released shortly thereafter back into the same situation they came from without addressing the reason why they committed the crime, we’re almost allowing them to re-offend.”
13 Investigates examined court records from 2019 for defendants who got released without bail, on their own recognizance, or O-R.
In June, Matthew James Siddiki violated a domestic violence protective order, got out of jail free and then didn’t show up for court.
After an arrest for felony date-rape drug trafficking in August, Luis Raul Collazo Suarez also failed to appear in court. And he was supposed to be under intense supervision.
Edwardo Zepeda was arrested in June for felony child abuse/neglect. He had an extensive criminal history including DUI, failure to appear twice before, burglary and grand larceny. He, too, got an O-R release with medium level electronic monitoring.
Ankle monitors are one way to track people on O-R releases. Another way–a kiosk at the Regional Justice Center where defendants are required to regularly check in.
Using a handprint, they get a screen full of questions. Their answers reassure authorities they’re staying out of trouble and that they will show up for their day in court.
There’s one type of crime that carries extra concern for police when they see the person get out of jail free.
The charge: possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
Las Veas Metropolitan Police Department Asst. Sheriff Chris Jones says, “They’ve already been convicted, already told they can’t legally have a gun and then disregarded all that. Obviously very violent individuals.”
Individuals like Errol Gaines. An ex-felon with a gun arrested on a felony charge while out of custody on another.
Gaines was in a standoff with police last April and was charged with domestic battery and assault with a deadly weapon in a case that paralyzed a neighborhood.
“A lot of work goes into the identification, the case, the arrest, the prosecution,” Jones explained. “So there are going to be times when individuals are let out and it’s going to frustrate law enforcement.”
Asst. Sheriff Jones says some jurisdictions have taken the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ too far.
“New York is a prime example to where they’re letting everybody out short of murder and they’re seeing the effects of that with the rising violent crime rate.”
On the flip side is what it means to keep someone sitting in jail pre-trial.
“To keep the wrong person in jail who could lose their job, that hurts the community because if they lose their job they may be more prone to commit another crime,” says Wolfson.
Wolfson likes the system that the federal government uses. “They make a determination of if you are a flight risk or danger to the community, you’re detained. If you’re not, you’re released. And bail in the federal system is extremely rare.”
Keeping people in jail just because they can’t afford bail complicates the issue even further.
“A person’s ability just to come up with cash shouldn’t be the reason that they get out of custody,” said Clark County Public Defender Darin Imlay.
LVMPD statistics show 75-percent of the people in the Clark County Detention Center are awaiting trial.
Nearly 570 people sat behind bars in 2019 for more than seven days just because they couldn’t afford less than $2500 bail.
“A lot of times the people that are in jail and stay in jail, there’s no co-signor willing to go to bat for them, meaning that this person is probably a bad person and should stay in jail. And nobody visits that side of the aisle because everybody says poor people stay in jail,” said Licensed Bail Agent Marc Gabriel.
He says with bail comes accountability.
But Darin Imlay says someone who can post bail is no less dangerous than someone who can’t.
“We shouldn’t put a price tag on whether or not a person is allowed to be out of custody or not. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of cases of people that I think should have been released and weren’t a danger to the community.”
Nevada is one of many states across the country re-considering their use of pre-trial risk assessment tools.
Lawmakers are currently holding hearings that include possible bail reform.
Few crimes illustrate the get-out-of-jail-free hazard more than DUIs.
Repeat offenders are rampant and 13 Investigates found the accountability can be absent.
Darcy Spears tackles the revolving door of DUI justice as her special report continues Monday.
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