Judges: Court deadlines not to blame for rise in crime - Albuquerque Journal

Judges: Court deadlines not to blame for rise in crime

Judge Nan Nash

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

District judges say they “strongly dispute” the district attorney's assertion that the court and its case management order are to blame for a rising crime rate and a backlog of thousands of cases.

Judge Charles Brown

In response, judges announced Thursday that the court will allot two additional blocks of time each week for preliminary hearings – often the first step in a District Court criminal case. In a letter to 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez, judges said the extra preliminary hearings will begin next month and will deal specifically with cases dismissed by the court “because of (the DA's) office's failure to comply with the CMO.”

“You have told us and the public that you are ready to get these cases refiled and moving,” Judges Nan Nash and Charles Brown wrote. “Let's get moving together to accomplish this goal.”

Torrez said Thursday afternoon that more preliminary hearings won't solve the problem.

“The solution is to dismiss fewer cases for reasons that would not be granted in other counties in this state,” he said.

The case management order, or CMO, was put in place by the state Supreme Court to move criminal cases through the court more efficiently in Bernalillo County and address crowding at the county jail. It set strict deadlines, which vary based on the complexity of a case. Failing to comply with CMO requirements can result in the case being dismissed.

Torrez released a report last week outlining impacts of the CMO on the county's criminal justice system. He said the order, designed to promote efficiency, instead has resulted in more court time spent litigating issues related to the CMO, rather than the merit of the criminal case.

More cases are now going to trial, he said, because it makes sense for a defendant to reject early plea agreements, just in case a missed deadline would result in a case dismissal.

He said prosecutors here hesitate to launch a case that isn't fully investigated, while other jurisdictions can file a case immediately and continue the investigation as it moves through the system. Facing possible dismissal, Torrez said, his office was forced to hold off on filing “thousands of felony cases.”

In their letter, Nash and Brown said they agree that some of those cases were dismissed for CMO violations, but said they “strongly dispute (the) claim that this backlog is primarily due to the CMO.”

They point out that the DA's Office has always had a backlog of thousands of cases and that prosecutors this year alone have dismissed more than 600 cases – fewer than 20 of which reflected a dismissal related to the CMO.

They said that although they have “statistics that tell a different story about your office's dismissal of hundreds of cases and your inability to secure convictions in the cases you do take to trial, we do agree that cases should be resolved on their merits.”

Nash said the court in no way concedes that cases were dismissed inappropriately, but the two judges acknowledge some were dismissed over CMO violations.

“Pick those out, bring them forward,” Nash said. “We will put special resources toward that.”

This, she said, is the court's way of trying to work with the its criminal justice partners to address the backlog.

Torrez said that while he appreciates the offer, “this isn't remotely sufficient to address escalating crime.”

Dismissing cases midway through the court process, he said, means that all the work done until that point has to be redone if it's refiled, and that's a drain on a system already low on resources.

“We don't start from where we left off,” he said. “We start from the beginning.”

District Attorney Raúl Torrez

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