DA’s suggest changes to Supreme Court on rule for keeping violent offenders locked up until trial

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – District attorneys from across New Mexico came together, saying too many violent offenders are being released into the community despite a new constitutional amendment that’s supposed to keep that from happening.

Eight of the state’s 13 elected DA’s gathered at the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office Thursday, offering suggestions to the State Supreme Court on how to fix Rule 5-409, which was enacted July 1.

Rule 5-409 was created by justices in response to the state constitutional amendment voters passed last November to keep dangerous offenders locked up until trial. The rule’s purpose is to guide judges on how to implement the new law, which was modeled off the federal court system.

However, the new law hasn’t been implemented like the federal court system, DA’s say, and for that reason, they believe voters were duped into what sounded like a great idea but isn’t working.

“What we’ve seen for just the month of September in Hobbs is that 40 different individuals were arrested two or more times for different offenses,” said DA Dianna Luce of the 5th Judicial District.

Bernalillo County DA Raul Torrez says only 5 percent of pre-trial detention motions are successful in his district.

“We have this new rule that’s been implemented statewide, and if you go to any of the 13 different judicial districts, there’s 13 different systems being done in the courtroom,” said DA John Sugg of the 12th Judicial District. “Some of us are having 15-minute hearings. I had a detention hearing that took four-and-a-half hours last week.”

It’s an issue the Supreme Court clearly recognizes because two weeks ago, Justice Charles Daniels reached out to the DA’s and asked for “constructive feedback” on Rule 5-409. His letter to the DA’s can be read here.

“Uniformity should be something the justice system strives for,” DA Sugg said.

The gathering of DA’s Thursday was to announce their suggestions on how to fix the rule across the board. For example, they want judges to consider all factors in a case.

“…The nature and the circumstance of the offense. Was it violent? Was a gun used? Does he have a history of violence? Does he have prior felony convictions? Those sorts of things,” DA Sugg said.

Another major suggestion is streamlining the process by holding preliminary hearings and pre-trial detention hearings at the same time.

The DA’s agree that the current rule is putting a strain on the justice system — from public defenders to law enforcement to prosecutors.

“It’s pretty rare that you’re able to see folks from places that are so different, from Taos all the way down to Hobbs, come together and support these kinds of rules. But, it’s that important to the state and it’s something that we’re all behind,” Torrez said.

Read the proposed changes to the rule, here. What’s underlined is what the DA’s are proposing.

KRQE News 13 reached out to the state Supreme Court in response to the suggestions from the DA’s. The court issued the following response:

Justice Daniels had invited feedback from the district attorneys about pretrial release and detention issues in a letter dated Sept. 13 sent to the Administrative Office of the District Attorneys. The suggestions offered by the district attorneys in a Sept. 26 letter from the president of the District Attorneys’ Association will be given appropriate consideration.

KRQE News 13 also reached out to the ACLU of New Mexico:

Bernalillo County is in the midst of implementing several complex criminal justice reforms, including the new Supreme Court rules on bail and pretrial detention, the new risk assessment tool, and the existing case management order.  It is unwise to attribute the recent rise in crime to any one of these reforms because we simply don’t have the data yet, and the ACLU of New Mexico is focused on proven, data driven solutions.  Anecdotal stories about crime make for good soundbites but cannot be the basis for sound criminal justice policy without the data to back them up.”

The New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association said:

In their letter, the District Attorneys’ Association describes how they seek to incarcerate “approximately 74%” of those charged with crimes before they have had a trial or been found guilty of any offense. They intend to do this by creating a list of charges and describing them as “dangerous by law” thereby removing the presumption of innocence and the right to bail for the vast majority of people in the criminal justice system. They attempt to do this knowing that excessive pre trial detention has been proven nationally to increase crime. This is not sensible criminal justice reform.

A call and email to the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association both went unanswered.

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