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Nevada Psychological Review Panel Hearings Subjected to Open Meeting and Constitutional Due Process Requirements

by Matthew T.Clarke

In two related cases, the Supreme Court of Nevada held that sex offender certification hearings held by the Nevada Psychological Review Panel (PRP) were subject to the Nevada open meeting law (OML) and constitutional due process. The court also held that prisoners who were serving consecutive sentences and were being considered for parole from one sentence into another without the possibility of immediate release were not required to be certified before being granted parole.

Robert Leslie Stockmeier is a Nevada state prisoner who is serving two consecutive life sentences for sex offenses. In 2002 he became eligible to parole from one sentence into the other.

Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 213.1214 requires that sex offenders receive certification from the PRP that they are not a high risk to reoffend before they are released on parole. In 2002, the PRP gave Stockmeier notice of a hearing on his mental state. At the hearing, they met in closed session to hear the statement of Stockmeier?s victim. In addition to the details about the trauma and negative affect on her life the crime had, the victim described other instances of abuse which had not been previously alleged and for which Stockmeier was never charged. The panel then questioned Stockmeier. He admitted the offenses for which he had been convicted, but denied the new allegations.

The PRP then opened its meeting to the public and announced that it would not certify Stockmeier because he failed to admit the newly-alleged crimes.

Representing himself, Stockmeier filed two separate legal actions in state district court alleging violations of the OML, NRS Chapter 241, NRS 213.1214 and his constitutional rights. Specifically, he alleged that the meeting was improperly closed to the public, that the certification process did not apply to a prisoner who was paroling from one sentence into another, that the PRP improperly used new allegations of which he had no prior notice to deny certification, and numerous constitutional and statutory violations.

The district court dismissed both actions after holding that the challenge to procedural aspects of the hearing was prohibited by NRS 213.1214 and Stockmeier had no constitutional standing to assert OML violations. Stockmeier appealed to the Supreme Court of Nevada.

The Supreme Court held that NRS 213.1214 prohibited challenges to the decision to grant a certification hearing. However, this does not prevent a prisoner from challenging the constitutional violations occurring before or during the hearing or challenging the validity of the statute.
In this case, Stockmeier alleged that the PRP was required by NRS 213.1214 to limit its inquiry to issues involving the crime for which the prisoner is imprisoned. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the statute does not specify or limit what the PRP may consider and that information unrelated to the offense of conviction that reveals whether a prisoner might be a threat to society is important information for the PRP to consider when deciding whether to certify a prisoner for release. Thus, the district court?s denial and dismissal of Stockmeier?s petition for a writ of habeas corpus and petition for a writ of prohibition were upheld.

The Supreme Court agreed with Stockmeier that NRS 213.1214 applies only to prisoners about to be released into society, not those paroling from one sentence into another. Therefore, the district court erred when it dismissed Stockmeier?s petition for a writ of mandamus and the judgment of the district court in that suit was reversed and the suit returned to the district court with orders for it to grant Stockmeier?s petition for a writ of mandamus.

The Supreme. Court also held that a prisoner can assert OML violations with regard to PRP certification hearings. It specifically rejected the PRP?s claim that the hearing was a quasi-judicial proceeding exempt from the OML. This is because the hearings do not involve taking sworn testimony and other evidence, cross-examination of witnesses, weighing evidence, the making of findings of facts and conclusions of law, the ability to appeal a decision or other basic hallmarks of quasi-judicial administrative proceedings. This absence of basic adversarial procedures would easily allow a proceeding to be unfair and unreliable. ?This is exactly what the open meeting laws are intended to prevent by allowing public access to public bodies conducting the people?s business.... The very purpose of the open meeting law would be circumvented if public bodies were allowed to avoid the open meeting law by claiming that a proceeding was a judicial proceeding without providing the basic protections of a trial.?

Prisoners need not have the constitutional standing of Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992) to assert violations of the OML as NRS 241.037(2) provides that any person denied a right conferred by the OML may sue. This clearly includes prisoners, even though they are unable to take advantage of the OML to attend public meetings. Prisoners may not sue to enforce the OML for public meetings they cannot attend due to their incarceration. However, they have a limited right to sue to enforce those portions of the OML imposing duties on public bodies toward individuals. Thus, prisoners may enforce a request an agenda or other material from a public body under NRS 241.020(5) and prisoners must be given notice of a meeting involving the prisoner under NRS 241.033.
Likewise, ?where the prisoner attends a meeting and is the subject of the meeting, the prisoner may seek to enforce the OML?s open meeting and notice requirements to ensure a fair hearing.? Therefore, to comport with the OML, Stockmeier should have been given notice that the PRP intended to review misconduct beyond the crime of conviction. The judgment of the district court was reversed and the open records suit returned to the district court for further proceeding to determine whether the PRP held a valid, meeting under NRS 241.033, whether it gave adequate public notice under NRS 241.020 and whether its agenda complied with NRS 241.020. See: Stockmeier v. Nevada Department of Corrections Psychological Review Panel, 133 P.3d 320, (Nev. 2006) and Stockmeier v. Psychological Review Panel, 135 P.3d 807 (Nev. 2006)(OML issues).

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Related legal cases

Stockmeier v. Nevada Department of Corrections Psychological Review Panel

Stockmeier v. Psychological Review Panel