Top Nevada prosecutors tout new 'tough on crime' measures

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and other prosecutors are touting the passage of three "tough on crime" measures they say will help victims, although opponents say the measures go too far.

Laxalt and Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks said during a news conference Wednesday that AB49, AB193 and SJR17 complement each other, extending more protections to crime victims and enacting harsher penalties for sex-related crimes.

The Republican attorney general said passage of bills like AB49 — which ups penalties on child sex crimes and criminalizes so-called "revenge porn" — would be a boon to prosecutors and help enshrine victims' rights into law.

"When you look back over the past legislative session, I believe the history books will mark this as a watershed moment for victims' rights," Laxalt said at the news conference at the Mills B. Lane Justice Center in downtown Reno. A similar event is planned for Thursday in Las Vegas.

During the 2015 session, which ended June 1, Nevada lawmakers approved nearly two dozen bills that extend or create new penalties for a range of crimes, including graffiti and flying a drone too close to an airport.

Despite the optimism Wednesday, some criminal justice reform advocates say increasing penalties leads to more crowded prisons and doesn't meaningfully deter future criminal behavior.

"Future sex offenders aren't checking (Nevada statutes) and saying, 'Oh, now that this is a Category B felony, maybe I won't do this,'" said Vanessa Spinazola, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

Clark County Deputy Public Defender Steve Yeager said he took issue with AB193, which would allow so-called hearsay evidence at preliminary hearings but would apply only to sensitive cases like child sex abuse or domestic violence. He said allowing hearsay evidence — defined as an alleged victim's statement to authorities — could lead to more trials rather than negotiated plea deals.

The bill's supporters said allowing hearsay evidence would give victims of sensitive crimes a way out of having to testify.

"Court can be very scary for anybody — me, as an adult. So for a child, I can only imagine what that would be like," said Justine Hernandez, chairwoman of the Reno-based Alliance for Victims' Rights. "This demonstrates to victims of crime that we care, that we believe them, and that they are not alone."

Gov. Brian Sandoval has signed AB193 and AB49, which become law effective Oct. 11.

Yeager said overall, lawmakers avoided severely setting the state back but made no significant steps toward overhauling criminal justice and incarceration rates.

"There were at least a handful of bills that didn't pass that I think would have made the session a disaster," he said.

Laxalt also touted SJR17, which is a proposed constitutional amendment that would enact a "victim's bill of rights" and is commonly known as Marsy's Law. It needs to be approved by the 2017 Legislature and by voters before becoming law.


Snyder reported from Carson City.

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