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Lawsuit filed over pretrial detention rules

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The Bail Bond Association of New Mexico, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers and a woman who spent five days at the Metropolitan Detention Center filed a class action lawsuit on Friday against the state’s Supreme Court and its judges over rules affecting pretrial detention.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, is seeking an injunction that prevents courts from using the new Supreme Court rules. It says the rules are unconstitutional, because “the availability of bail is enshrined in the Bill of Rights.”

The Supreme Court issued the rules after voters in November 2016 supported a constitutional amendment that said people could be held in jail without bail until their trial if they are found to be a danger to the community. It also said inmates who are not a risk could be released from custody even if they couldn’t afford a monetary bond. The rules went into effect July 1.

Bondsmen also said the rules have contributed to Albuquerque’s spike in crime, because so many defendants have been released on their own recognizance.

However, some groups have pointed out that Albuquerque’s crime rate has been increasing since about 2010, which was years before the rules went into effect.

They said the rules have decimated their profession, as most defendants are being released from custody as soon as they appear before a judge without having to post a bond.

Gerald Madrid, the president of the bond association, said for years defendants would have to pay a bonding company 10 percent of their bond to get released from jail. In most cases, defendants would have to pay a bondsman about $250, he said.

“Of course our businesses were devastated. We’ve laid off all of our employees across the state. Companies are shutting down,” Madrid said at a news conference on Friday. “We’re no longer part of the process.”

Madrid said the new rules will end the bail bonds business.

He said the state Supreme Court has essentially “shamed” bondsman for gaining financially from someone’s arrest. “This is our business. We’re not ashamed of it. This is what we do.”

Jail and pretrial detention practices have been changing in Albuquerque for several years. The reforms started when then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels said in a 2014 opinion that judges can’t set exorbitant bonds that, in effect, were the same as denying a suspect bond because they could not afford it.

In the case that led to that opinion, a 19-year-old man with mental disabilities spent three years in jail awaiting trial because he couldn’t post a $250,000 bond. Prosecutors dismissed the case before it went to trial.

Barry Massey, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, declined to address the specific allegations in the lawsuit.

“Courts exist to resolve these types of disputes,” he said in an email. “It would be inappropriate to comment on the merits of the lawsuit because this is a pending legal matter.”

Madrid said the new rules are also hurting the low-level, nonviolent defendants they were intended to help. He said the new rules require in most cases that defendants go before a judge, who can release them under various conditions of release, such as an ankle monitor or other restrictions.

Madrid said that can take days. He said in prior years, a bond schedule would have allowed the defendant to be released after paying a bondsman as soon as the person was booked into jail.

“What we’re trying to do is take things back to the way things were,” said Blair Dunn, an attorney representing Darlene Collins, the plaintiff in the lawsuit who spent about five days in jail in July.

Collins was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault on July 1. Because of the new rules, Dunn said she had to stay in jail for the entire holiday weekend and wasn’t released for about five days. He said that, in the past, she would have been able to be released much sooner.

“If she had her Eighth Amendment rights, as she’s supposed to have them, her family could have posted the bond and she could have obtained that pre(arraignment) liberty,” Dunn said.

Dunn said the lawsuit filed Friday is similar to one that is pending in New Jersey, which this year also made similar changes to pretrial detention practices.

In addition to Collins and the bail bonds industry, state Sens. Richard Martinez, D-Española, Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, and Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, and state Reps. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, and Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo.