Assemblywoman makes case for treating pretrial house arrest as time served

By: - March 3, 2021 6:46 am

People confined under house arrest shouldn’t ultimately get stuck with longer sentences because trials were delayed through no fault of their own, says Assemblywoman Selena Torres. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Last year, Assemblywoman Selena Torres heard from a former student who had been confined to house arrest for nearly 13 months awaiting his trial — the alleged crime wasn’t specified — because court dates were rescheduled and pushed back due to Covid restrictions and safety measures. 

When he finally gets a trial, and if he is convicted, the time spent in residential confinement won’t apply to his sentence.  

Assembly Bill 160, which was heard Tuesday, would give judges the ability to apply time served during pretrial house arrest to sentences. But under an amendment proposed by the City of Henderson, the time-served policy wouldn’t apply to those convicted of misdemeanor crimes. 

Mike Cathcart, Henderson’s business operations manager who testified against the bill, said because misdemeanor sentences are capped at six months, “one or two continuances and you’ve already run the clock” on jail time.

He argued there needs to be a punishment to ensure people convicted for misdemeanors go to mandated treatment assigned with their sentences.

“It could be anger management classes. It could be DUI classes. It could be a lot of other things. We need a mechanism to make sure those things happen after the trial,” he said. “If the entire sentence runs on the confinement options, we would not have a way to make sure those post trial sentence requirements are followed through on.”

Sarah Hawkins, the president of Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice, countered jail isn’t the only way to enforce compliance with treatment programs. 

“If you want someone to go and get treatment, you don’t need to confine them even further or not give them credit for previous (home) confinement in order to accomplish that,” she said in an interview following the hearing.

The court could hold people in contempt in those cases, Hawkins added, and a judge could say, “‘I cant sentence you to jail on the underlying case, you served your time there, but what I can do is put you in jail for another 25 days or charge you a $500 fine if you fail to complete your remaining requirements including your treatment.’”

Lawmakers did not vote on the Henderson amendment at Tuesday’s hearing and are still weighing the proposal.

Torres said AB 160 is about recognizing that “confinement is confinement.” 

“Residential confinement, known as house arrest, is punishment people undergo while they are awaiting trial,” Torres said. “Their movements are restricted and monitored. The only reasons they can leave their house sometimes is to go to work, to go to court, to meet with their lawyer or to go to a doctor’s appointment.”

Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen said while case law generally accepts that people serving behind bars pretrial should have that time applied to sentences, the bill would  also “clean up language in the statute” to explicitly say so. 

The legislation was first proposed in 2019 by Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo and carried the same amendment from the City of Henderson. 

While it passed the Assembly unanimously — Assemblyman John Hambrick was absent — the legislation failed to advance to the Senate Judiciary Committee  for a hearing. 

Hawkins said early discussions between criminal reform advocates and Senate leaders make her hopeful the bill could make it further this time around. 

Torres, referencing her former student, said people who follow the rules of house arrest shouldn’t be penalized and forced to serve longer sentences because trials were delayed through no fault of their own. 

“He did exactly what we want people to do. He moved to a different side of town from where the violence had started, he started working and recognized he needed to get on the right path,” she said. “He started making life changes. That’s exactly what we want of individuals that are serving time in any location.” 

But the legislation, if passed, wouldn’t apply to him. 

“If we were to put it retroactive, it would probably come with a fiscal note as those individuals would have to be resentenced,“ Torres said. “That would make it very costly for the state of Nevada.”

Hawkins said if the legislation does pass and gets signed into law, it should apply to those currently in custody or under house arrest. 

Ashley White, who testified in favor of the bill, read a letter from someone formerly incarcerated who is currently in home confinement on another charge. 

The person wrote there was no difference because both restrict her freedom, adding it was “disheartening to know this time is a waste” because the time she is confined won’t reduce a potential sentence. 

“All this time I’m missing with my family and I could still miss even more when it comes to the resolution of my pending charges,” White read. “Charges I haven’t been found guilty of. Charges I may never do time on. I didn’t kill someone. I don’t even need jail or prison. I need treatment for my struggle with drugs. Time served should be time served and we should get credit no matter where we served it.”

Jennifer Noble, a prosecutor with the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office and lobbyist with the Nevada District Attorney’s Association, opposed the bill and said house arrest isn’t the same as detention. 

“If you have two defendants who have similar backgrounds and committed similar offenses and one remains in the detention center for one reason or another while the other makes pretrial release with house arrest as a condition, maybe because they can afford it, one person is going to be earning credit in jail and the other is going to be earning credit in their residence,” she said. “One will spend more time behind bars. That is not equitable.” 

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Michael Lyle
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.