Bernalillo County DA plans to try less cases, focus on ‘worst of the worst’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez has announced a plan for his office to try less cases, honing in and focusing efforts on “the worst of the worst” criminals.

Currently, the DA’s Office takes on about 18,000 of 25,000 criminal cases referred to it by law enforcement each year. The conviction rate on the cases tried, Torrez said, is less than half — about 44 percent. He wants to do better.

“It’s something that we need to dramatically improve and we can do that by putting together better cases with our law enforcement partners and making sure that we have the kind of training that we need, and the kind of resources that we need in trial preparation,” Torrez said.

His new plan is to try less cases, putting more dedication into higher profile cases of violent offenders. Torrez points to Davon Lymon, the man accused of gunning down Officer Daniel Webster in 2015, as an example of someone who slipped through the cracks but shouldn’t have.

The DA says putting more effort into convicting criminals like Lymon will raise conviction rates, get dangerous people off the streets and potentially avoid tragedies, like the case of Officer Webster.

So, instead, non-violent offenders will be referred to drug treatment programs and other diversion programs.

“Our belief is that it’s more important to do a high quality job on more dangerous defendants rather than trying to extend the system beyond what we’re capable of doing effectively,” he said.

There’s no number on how fewer cases the DA’s Office will try, but certainly less than the current 18,000 a year.

In response to the DA’s announcement, Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden sent this statement to KRQE News 13:

What the District Attorney has said today is that Bernalillo County has a serious and unmistakable problem with habitual offenders. We understand why he plans to focus on these individuals, who our officers have had to arrest over and over again for serious crimes. We are encouraged by these renewed efforts and appreciate our partnership with the DA to aggressively stop repeat offenders.

Similarly, the New Mexico Defense Lawyer’s Association sent this statement:

The New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association supports Second Judicial District Attorney Raul Torrez on his plan to reduce the number of cases prosecuted by his office in order to focus on offenders who are considered to be more dangerous.

There are limited resources given to the judicial system, including the courts, the D.A.’s office, and the public defenders, and those are all best spent on the most important cases.

The NMCDLA also supports the District Attorney’s call for more resources to be spent in early childhood programs and drug treatment programs.  If the community spent money earlier in a person’s life, or during a person’s descent into addiction, that money would be saved many times over compared to the costs of crimes, prosecution, and incarceration.

In short, the NMCDLA thinks well of DA Torrez’ long overdue plan to focus on the right cases.

-Jonathan L. Ibarra on behalf of the NMCDLA

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