9th Circuit overturns ruling denying inmate eye surgery

August 18, 2014

Last week the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a District Court ruling that would prevent 67-year-old inmate John Colwell from getting cataract surgery. The Ninth Circuit Circuit considered Colwell's condition serious and the denial of medical treatment as cruel and unusual punishment.

Colwell cataracts caused his right eye to go blind twelve years ago. He has since injured his hand doing prison work, and the injuries may have been caused by his impaired vision. If he ultimately gets the surgery, it may cost the prison more than $3,230.

Colwell is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole at the Southern Desert Correctional Center. Elderly inmates represent less than six percent of the prison population, but the cost of their medical care represents a significant portion of the prison's budget. In America, housing elderly inmates comes at a cost of $16 billion.

For more on this story, go to: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nevada/nevada-inmate-denied-cataract-surgery-wins-ruling

Nevada road-rage driver gets possible life in prison.

August 11, 2014

In Carson City last week, a District judge sentenced 28-year-old Leonardo Cardoza to a possible life sentence for the first-degree murder committed in a bout of road rage. The victim was a teenage girl.


The incident occurred in early 2013 when the defendant began tailgating the victim. After the victim pulled over and exited the car, Cardoza drove into her, causing fatal injuries.

Cardoza is expected to appeal the murder conviction on account that he was too drunk to premeditate a murder. Cardoza will be eligible for parole after serving 29 years of his sentence.

For more on this story, go to: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/crime-courts/man-sentenced-carson-city-road-rage-death

Burning Man may cause increase in bike thefts

August 7, 2014

Reno police believe the annual Burning Man festival may prompt a surge in bicycle thefts. Authorities see a substantial increase in stolen bike cases leading up to the week-long event, which commences on August 25th. Since Burning Man takes place in the desolate Black Rock Desert playa, festival-goers use bikes as their primary mode of transportation.


However, some believe the rise in bike thefts has nothing to do with Burning Man. Rather, there has been an increase in people using bikes to travel around Reno, and this increase naturally correlates with a rise in bike thefts. Furthermore, Burning Man provides free bike rentals to dissuade thefts.

Stealing a bike qualifies as the Nevada crime of larceny. If the bike is worth less than $650, it is petty larceny and carries up to 6 months in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines. If the bike is valued at $650 to under $3,500, then it is grand larceny and a category C felony, carrying up to 5 years in Nevada State Prison and maybe up to $10,000 in fines. Otherwise, bike theft is category B grand larceny carrying up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

For more on this story, go to: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nevada/rise-reno-bike-thefts-linked-burning-man-police-say

Indictment expected for pastor suspected of Las Vegas murder

Last week a Nevada murder charge was dismissed against thirty-five-year-old California pastor Robert Cox in anticipation of a grand jury indictment in the near future. Cox is suspected of causing the death of a fifty-five-year-old man during an alleged altercation last year outside Four Kegs on Jones and the I-95. The victim languished in Summerlin Hospital Medical Center for months before dying.


The incident took place while Cox participated in a ministry outreach trip in Las Vegas with members of the Place or Refuge Church of Manteca. The victim reportedly approached the group in the parking lot, and a fight broke out. The victim fell backwards and sustained severe head trauma. Authorities ruled his death a homicide because the initial cause of his injuries was the alleged argument.

Cox claims his story of what happened that night never changed, and that he is trusting God as the legal process plays itself out. He and his wife are hoping to adopt more children once the case is over. To learn more about this story, go to: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nevada/judge-dismisses-murder-charge-against-california-pastor-grand-jury-still-hearing-case

800,000 criminal records missing from Nevada repository

Nevada's criminal information repository is reportedly missing records of more than 800,000 criminal cases from the past 20 years. According to a 2011 study done by MTG Management Consultants, the state's law enforcement agencies and courts have been derelict in forwarding the case information to the repository.


The dearth of criminal records means that employers, licensing agencies, and gun dealers who run background checks may get an incomplete report. Furthermore, the Department of Parole and Probation may lack sufficient information to recommend an appropriate sentence. In addition, wardens may not be able to accurately determine where to house an inmate if there is no data that speaks to his/her proclivity towards violence.

Various factors may have contributed to the failure of police and courts to send records to the repository including insufficient resources and ignorance of the reporting regulations. The repository is set to hire 20 new employees to input the backlog's data, which is estimated to take 4 more years.

For more on this story, go to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

$2 million bail set for retired teacher charged with murder

Last week a Reno judge set a $2 million bail for 73-year-old Wayne Burgarello, a former teacher, who is charged with murdering an unarmed trespasser and attempting to murder another earlier this year. Burgarello claims he shot the victims in self-defense in alliance with Nevada’s "stand your ground" law.


Burgarello owned several weapons including long-barreled guns, hand guns, knives and brass knuckles (which people are not allowed to possess in Nevada). He says that the male victim physically threatened him, though the prosecution argues the defendant never faced a threat to his safety.

It may not be possible for Burgarello to make bail since his assets total only $150,000. While he is in jail, the state will also shoulder the burden of administering his medication.

The preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 26th. It is expected that victim Janai Wilson will testify how she and the other victim were asleep when Burgarello walked in on them and began yelling at them prior to the shooting.

For more on this story, go to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Man gets up to 20 years for attempting to kill stepfather

This week 22-year-old Michael Bessey was sentenced to 8 to 20 years in Nevada State Prison for attempted murder of his stepfather, Robert Bessey. In November 2012, Michael Bessey shot Robert Bessey in the back of his head while he was driving along I-15 near the Valley of Fire. Michael Bessey made the shot from a car that belonged to the victim’s brother-in-law’s girlfriend. Robert Bessey survived.

Michael Bessey had no criminal history, which is a mitigating circumstance that may prompt a judge to impose a more lenient penalty. However, Judge Nancy Becker took into consideration that Michael Bessey's shooting occurred on an open road, which endangered the lives of others.

Earlier in 2014, Michael Bessey pleaded guilty to the attempted murder. His uncle also pleaded guilty and received the same prison sentence. And his mother was convicted by a jury last year and was sentenced to up to 44 years in Nevada State Prison.

Read more about this story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Dead Nevada prisoner has murder conviction reversed

Last week the Nevada Supreme Court reversed a dead inmate’s murder conviction on appeal due to a procedural error in his trial. Five-and-a-half years ago Ronnie Brass was sentenced to life in Nevada State Prison for killing Earnest Mitchell, though two years ago Brass was murdered himself while in custody.


Had Brass lived, the Nevada Supreme Court’s decision would allow him to get a new trial. Nevada Supreme Court Justice Michael Douglas wrote that,

“Although the appellant is deceased, rectifying a constitutional error nevertheless benefits society because it decreases the chances that another person would fall victim to the same error.”

Ronnie’s brother Jermaine Brass was sentenced to life as well in the same case, and he received a new trial on the same procedural grounds that let to Ronnie Brass’s successful appeal. During the original trial, an African-American juror was dismissed discriminatorily, which is a constitutional error that warrants a reversal of conviction and new trial. Jermaine Brass remains in custody.

This case is significant because deceased defendants in criminal cases have not been allowed to have convictions reversed on appeal. However, the Nevada Supreme Court’s actions show that such appeals may be heard as long as a personal representative of the defendant is named—in this case, the defendant’s mother.

Read more about this story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Las Vegas Woman Charged for Having 1,000 Identities

October 16, 2013

Last week a 32-year-old Las Vegas woman was indicted with multiple counts of the Nevada crime of forgery and related offense for allegedly having about 1,000 identities. She reportedly had two forging laboratories in Las Vegas containing a large amount of other people's personal information. Some of the victims claim their IDs were stolen during car burglaries.

Las Vegas Forgery Defense

The Nevada crime of forgery is using false or falsified documents with the intent to defraud another. Typical examples of forgery include paying with a fake check, signing a check with another's name, and creating a false court order. Common defenses are that the defendant's action did not rise to the level of forgery, or that the defendant had no intent to defraud.

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Las Vegas Prostitute Claims She Killed Pimp in Self-Defense

October 15, 2013

A 43-year-old prostitute was arrested Saturday for allegedly stabbing her pimp to death in his Las Vegas residence. She reportedly told police he threatened to kill her, which is why she struck back. The prostitute faces charges for committing the Nevada crime of murder with a deadly weapon.

Las Vegas Murder Defense

The Nevada crime of murder is divided into two degrees: First and second. First degree murder comprises premeditated killing as well as homicide committed in perpetration of a felony ("felony-murder"). Second degree murder comprises extremely reckless killing (such as playing Russian Roulette with a loaded gun). Typical defenses include mistaken identity or self-defense.

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Nevada Supreme Court Tosses Out Rape Conviction

October 9, 2013

The Nevada Supreme Court tossed out a 2010 rape conviction on the grounds that the jury contained only two African-Americans. Justices held that the defendant was deprived of his right to a fair and impartial jury. The defendant now awaits a new trial.

Nevada Sex Crime Defense

The Nevada crime of rape occurs when someone has sex with another person without that person's consent or while that person cannot give consent (such as if the victim is passed out). The most common defenses to rape charges is that the victim gave consent or that no sex occurred. People accused of having unwanted sexual contact with another person that falls short of sex (like groping) is prosecuted as open and gross lewdness.

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Erin Brockovich-Ellis Convicted of Boating under the Influence at Lake Mead

October 8, 2013

Recently, legal advocate Erin Brockovich-Ellis pleaded no contest to the Nevada crime of boating under the influence. The judge ordered her to pay $750, do an online boater safety course, and perform 25 hours of community service. The case stems from an incident earlier this year where a game warden caught Brockovich-Ellis acting intoxicated at Lake Mead. Her blood-alcohol level was reportedly .16, which is twice the lawful limit.

Nevada Criminal Defense

The Nevada crime of boating under the influence occurs when someone operates a water vessel while intoxicated or with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or above. Someone may be convicted of this crime no matter whether anyone was in danger or anyone got hurt. Typical defenses are that the arrestee wasn't the driver, or that the breath/blood-testing equipment was faulty.

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