Proposal would replace Nevada’s Pardons Board
April 19, 2017
Sponsors argued on Tuesday replacing the Pardons Board with a Clemency Board not composed of busy elected officials would improve the process and eliminate potential conflicts involving the Supreme Court.
Senate Joint Resolution 1 would alter the state constitution to remove the current board chaired by the governor that includes the attorney general and seven members of the Supreme Court. Those officials would instead appoint surrogates to handle the duties of reviewing petitions for pardons or restoration of voting, 2nd Amendment and other civil rights.
The proposed amendment has already been approved by the Senate, 20-0.
Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, who sponsored the measure along with Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said a major problem with the existing board is it's difficult for the governor, AG and justices to clear their schedules to be at a meeting that may last two and, occasionally, three days.
He said there's also the issue raised by the fact some people seeking pardons may still be parties in appeals cases before the Supreme Court, creating potential issues for the justices in voting for or against a pardon.
Parks said because of those officials' busy schedules, there was only one pardons board last year. SJR1 would require at least four boards a year to deal with the backlog of inmates seeking clemency.
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He said the plan would require some of those appointees have experience with the criminal justice system but there's also room for four "lay" appointees to join the board. He said maybe a psychologist or other professional with specialized experience and education would be appropriate.
He said those decisions would be made by the 2021 Legislature if and when voters approve the change.
Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, said his concern is this plan would increase the number of pardons granted.
"Every time they grant pardon or clemency we overturn a jury of their peers who imposed that sentence," Wheeler said.
Ohrenschall said few pardons are actually granted because the board's function is really to deal with those rare situations when there has been a miscarriage of justice. He cited the case of Cathy Woods who was twice convicted of a Reno murder that happened in the 1970s but was later exonerated by DNA evidence.
Ohrenschall said he doubts the number would greatly increase.
Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, said he likes the concept but asked if the current system isn't working somehow. And he asked whether it might create a danger of people winning a pardon who should be in prison.
Ohrenschall said those appointees would be selected by the governor, AG and chief justice and wouldn't likely be soft on crime.
The Corrections, Parole and Probation Committee took no action on the proposed amendment.