Assembly panel passes grand jury bill

Criminal defendants who end up before a grand jury after a judge has determined there is insufficient evidence for trial would be allowed to tell grand jurors of the judge's conclusion under a bill endo-rsed Saturday by the Assem-bly Judiciary Committee.

AB269 is sponsored by Assemblyman William Horne. The Las Vegas Democrat says 98 percent of the time defendants are bound over for trial after evidence is presented to a judge during a preliminary hearing.

But in rare instances when a judge determines facts are insufficient, he said prosecutors routinely take the case to a grand jury, where proceedings are secret. Defendants are neither allowed to offer evidence nor have a defense attorney present.

Whenever he's won a case after a preliminary hearing, Horne said the district attorney has handed him notice that prosecutors would take the case to a grand jury.

"Then at the grand jury, they present the same evidence and get an indictment," he said.

"Grand jurors have no way of knowing that the preliminary hearing was dismissed," said Danielle Barraza, an aide to Horne. "Their opinions might be changed if a judge had previously found evidence doesn't merit a trial."

Backers of the bill also noted that at a preliminary hearing, prosecutors need only show slight evidence for a judge to order a defendant to stand trial in district court.

The bill originally said prosecutors would be prevented from pursuing a grand jury indictment unless they had new evidence to present. It was amended to mirror a bill passed by the 2007 Legislature and vetoed by Gov. Jim Gibbons.

The 2007 veto of AB364 was overridden by the Asse-mbly but failed in the Senate.

Horne said the language was the result of discussions with district attorneys and that the bill doesn't preclude prosecutors from pursuing an indictment.

But in those instances, "the defendant is entitled to give a written statement to the grand jury advising them that the evidence presented to a judge was insufficient," he said.

AB269 now goes to the Assembly floor.

The bill was supported by the Clark County District Attorney's Office, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Nevada District Attorney's Association.


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