Prompted by backlog, Question 3 would reform pardon system

coulda mailed it tho
Voters outside the Paradise Recreation Center during the 2020 June primary. (Nevada Current file photo)

As of right now, the Nevada Board of Pardon Commissioners meets infrequently, which has contributed to a triple-digit backlog of applications. 

Ballot Question 3, if passed, would change the Nevada Constitution to require the board to meet at least quarterly, allow board members to bring up items for consideration and have clemency decisions made by a majority vote. Right now, the governor can override a majority.  

“The first issue is that the Board currently meets very infrequently, requiring meritorious petitions to languish,” wrote Jim Hoffman, with the Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice in a 2019 letter in support of the changes. “The second issue is that currently, the Governor can veto a petition for clemency even if every other member of the board agrees that it has merit. There is no justification for this.”

The Board of Pardon Commissioners, which includes the governor, attorney general and seven Nevada Supreme Court Justices, has no set schedule for when it meets. It has the power to commute punishments and grant pardons except for treason, impeachments, death sentence or life sentences without the possibility of parole.

During a 2019 presentation on Senate Joint Resolution 1, the legislation that led to the ballot question, Denise Davis, the executive secretary for the Board of Pardons Commissioners, told lawmakers only 10 to 15 community cases and one to five inmates cases are heard each year.  

She also testified there were 200 people waiting at the time of the hearing, which shocked many lawmakers. 

“Why are the 200 still waiting for the hearing? What is the reason there are 200 applicants who are still waiting for a hearing?” asked Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno. 

In addition to infrequent meetings, Tom Lawson with the division of Parole and Probation with the Department of Public Safety told lawmakers it was the investigation process and lack of resources that contributed to slow turnaround time. There are only two pardons investigators who vet applications.

“There is a greater demand than we have resources and capacity to produce reports,” he said.

SJR1 passed in 2019 unanimously in the Senate and with two opposed in the Assembly — Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus and Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen.

The Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice is supporting the ballot initiative. There is no listed opposition for the bill.

According to the Division of Parole and Probation, if the measure is passed it would require an additional two staff members to support the caseload, which would be about $175,000 per year. It also said the State Board of Parole Commissioners would require one additional administrative position, which would be an additional $65,000 per year. 

Only 27 states have some type of pardon’s board. Nevada is one of four states where the governor is part of the board.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.