Supreme Court dismisses charges against alleged child molester because of ‘gross negligence’ by police

A North Las Vegas man accused of sexually assaulting a child will walk free after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that “gross negligence” by local law enforcement caused a long enough delay to violate his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

A three-judge panel led by Justice James Hardesty ruled last month in favor of Rigoberto Inzunza, arrested in 2017 on 16 charges of sexually assaulting a nine-year-old girl when he lived with the girl’s mother in 2008.

The court order upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss charges against Inzunza over the  26-month delay between initial charges being filed against him in 2014 and his subsequent arrest more than two years later in New Jersey. That delay — attributed by the court to ”something more than mere negligence, but less than bad-faith intentional misconduct” by law enforcement — violated Inzuna’s constitutional right to a speedy trial, the judges said in the order.

“The only step taken by law enforcement to apprehend Inzunza was putting the arrest warrant in (a federal) database,” Hardesty wrote in the order. “Thus, we hold the investigation by law enforcement weighs in favor of Inzunza. The actions — or in this case the inaction — of law enforcement, despite the overwhelming information provided by (the victim’s) mother to locate Inzunza, is fatal to the State’s argument.”

A spokesman for the City of North Las Vegas did not return a request for comment on the case by publication time.

According to the order, Inzunza allegedly sexually assaulted a nine-year-old girl when he was living with the girl’s mother as a live-in babysitter, with the abuse continuing for a year until he moved out and relocated to New Jersey. Six years later, the girl disclosed the sexual abuse with her therapist, who informed her mother and filed a report with the North Las Vegas police department.

The victim’s mother provided a North Las Vegas detective with “printouts from Inzunza's Facebook profile that depicted his car, New Jersey license plate, and his employer's work truck with the business's name and number.” 

The detective (who was named Officer of the Year by the Las Vegas FBI office in 2018) then provided the information to the Clark County district attorney’s office, which filed charges against Inzunza in December 2014. Records department staff with North Las Vegas police entered a warrant for Inzunza’s arrest into a federal database, but “consistent with NLVPD policy” no one notified the detective and no “further effort” was made to follow up on the case until Inzunza was arrested more than two years later in 2017.

During an evidentiary hearing, the detective testified that there were no procedures in place for him to be notified once a warrant had been sent out and that his failure to contact law enforcement in New Jersey was because it is “not customary for the already taxed police department to expend additional resources in tracking down the perpetrator in a case that was not ‘high profile,’ but rather a ‘common sexual assault’ case.” 

Attorneys for Inzunza wrote in a 2018 District Court filing that he was never made aware of the charges against him during the two-year period between the filing of charges and arrest and that the long delay between filing charges and Inzunza’s arrest was “particularly damaging” for his case.

“Too much time has passed for Mr. Inzunza to reliably account for his whereabouts during the time period these acts were alleged to have occurred,” they wrote in a filing. “Tracking down possible defense witnesses is now far more difficult and their value will be intrinsically limited by the delay. Memory does not improve over time.”

That lengthy delay and the state’s “gross negligence” in pursuing Inzunza led the District Court to dismiss the charges in April 2018, in part citing a 1991 federal Supreme Court case that dismissed charges against a Florida man who was arrested eight years after being indicted on drug charges.

Although the gap between Inzuna’s indictment and arrest was shorter than the eight years in the federal trial, the Nevada Supreme Court’s ruling found that a “bright-line rule” would not be appropriate for determining whether post-indictment delays were long enough to violate speedy trial rights. 

Citing several other federal cases, justices said that despite the gravity of the charges against Inzunza, the “unusual facts” surrounding his case and “gross negligence” by the state were grounds to dismiss the case.

“The crimes alleged against Inzunza are serious,” Hardesty wrote in the order. “But the unusual facts concerning pre-arrest delay compel our affirmance of the district court's findings and conclusions that Inzunza properly invoked his speedy-trial right, he was entitled to a presumption of prejudice, and the State failed to rebut the presumption.”