In 2010, the Clark County Commission approved new inquest procedures which appointed an ombudsman to represent the family of any person killed by officers, and release key evidence and investigative files. This past October, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in Hernandez that the use of an ombudsman in the coroner’s inquest process did not violate the due process of law enforcement officers. However, because the process required only a justice of the peace to serve as a presiding officer in the coroner’s inquest proceedings regarding officer-involved deaths the coroner’s inquest process intruded on the Legislature’s exclusive authority over the jurisdiction of justices of the peace and therefore was unconstitutional.
Reacting to a recent decision by the Nevada Supreme Court, Clark County Commissioners have now agreed to consider two proposals to bring the coroner’s inquest process into line with the high court’s decision. Under the first proposal the only change to the current process would be to replace the justice of the peace with a hearing officer. The second proposal goes further. The justice of the peace would be replaced with a hearing officer; the police officers and anyone who could be a witness to the police involved shooting would be eliminated from the coroner’s inquest process; and the facts of the case would be presented by the lead homicide investigator who would be questioned by the hearing master and an attorney. While the second proposal is strongly supported by the police union, the first proposal is supported by several commissioners as well as many in the community.
According to Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, the second proposal tweaks the coroner’s inquest process so much it essentially has nothing of substance. She favors the first proposal which eliminates the technicality ruled unconstitutional by the Nevada Supreme Court. Further, if it doesn’t work, would allow the commission to make changes in the future.
The commissioners will debate both proposals after the new year. No coroner inquests have been held since 2010.
This commentary is for educational purposes. If you would like to be represented by an attorney in the Las Vegas law office of Lagomarsino Law, contact our office for a free confidential case review and receive a response within 24 hours. Call Toll Free 866-414-0400.