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New Mexico Supreme Court defends bail reforms from lawsuit

SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico Supreme Court has come to the defense of bail reforms that allow the release of suspects before trial without having to pay money if there is no significant threat to public safety, in federal court filings released Monday.

Members of the Supreme Court and other state judicial officials called a lawsuit a desperate move by the bail bonding industry to regain control over pretrial release practices, urging a federal court in New Mexico to dismiss the complaint and block a request for an injunction.

New Mexico has begun releasing nonviolent suspects before trial who might otherwise languish in jail only because they cannot afford bail. The policy changes respond to a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November, and also include provisions to ensure clearly dangerous defendants remain incarcerated as they await trial.

In a lawsuit filed last month against the state Supreme Court, the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico and five state lawmakers said suspects should have the right to pay bail without waiting on a judge’s decision.

The lawsuit revolves around the arrest of 61-year-old woman with physical and mental health problems on charges of aggravated assault in a domestic disturbance, asserting that she would have been released sooner and treated more humanely if her family were still allowed to post a bond for her release.

Members of the Supreme Court said the suit “would invent a supposed constitutional right for bail bondsmen to sue judges for failing to require a criminal defendant to purchase a money bond from a private vendor.”

Similar bail bond reforms in New Jersey also are being challenged in federal court, as several states contemplate bail reforms in efforts to reduce the numbers of nonviolent suspects unnecessarily awaiting trial in jail.

Reality TV star Duane Chapman of the “Dog the Bounty Hunter” show has joined the legal effort to have New Jersey’s new bail rules thrown out.