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Judge: New pretrial release, detention rules stay

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal judge on Thursday denied a request to block state court judges from using new pretrial release and detention rules that opponents say have decimated the local bail bonds industry and contributed to a rise in crime.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Junnell denied the motion for a preliminary injunction, which was requested as part of a lawsuit brought by local bondsman who are losing business, a defendant who was incarcerated for several days under the new rules and a handful of state senators.

The pretrial rules were issued by the state Supreme Court and went into effect across the state July 1. They call for defendants’ pretrial detention to be based on their threat to the community, and not their ability to afford a money bail.

“The public interest favors the preservation of lawfully-enacted constitutional amendments and court rules,” Junnell said in the order.

The judge said an injunction would “forbid New Mexico state courts from carefully considering the most effective means of assessing risk for pretrial release.”

Blair Dunn, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling, as preliminary injunctions can be difficult to obtain. But he said he’s still confident about the case going forward.

He said the new rules have led to many people to be released from jail on their own recognizance.

“The average citizen, if you walked up to them on the street and said ‘Do you feel safer in Albuquerque or anywhere in New Mexico after July 1,’ is going to tell you ‘No.,'” Dunn said. “Things are worse. Cars are being stolen. There’s a huge spike in crime.”

The defendants in the lawsuit, including judges and court officials, have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

“New Mexico courts can continue to release or detain defendants pretrial depending on the individual facts and circumstances of each case,” Artie Pepin, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, said in a statement. “We expect a ruling soon on the pending motion to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to state a claim and hope for a similar ruling.”

Last November, voters approved an amendment to the state’s Constitution that allows judges to detain some inmates without bond until their trial if the defendant is shown to pose a threat to the community. The amendment also means that now defendants who are not shown to be a danger to the community or a flight risk are guaranteed that they won’t be jailed because they can’t afford to post bond.

Efforts to reform the state’s pretrial detention practices were jump started in 2014 as part of an Albuquerque case in which a defendant spent several years in jail until his case was dismissed before it went to trial.

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