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DAs from around state seek pretrial detention rule changes

Bernalillo County DA Raul Torrez, right , is joined by 13th Judicial DA Lemuel Martinez, left and 11th Judicial DA Robert Tedrow, during a news conference to request changes to preventive detention hearings. ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/JOURNAL

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — District attorneys from around the state have sent the Supreme Court a set of proposed changes to pretrial detention rules that are used to hold certain criminal defendants without bail.

The prosecutors said they hope to create some uniformity for how detention hearings are run. They said that in some courtrooms, judges require prosecutors to offer hours of testimony before the judges decide whether to hold a defendant without bail.

The proposal says that judges can consider a variety of factors in declining to release someone, including the nature of the crime charged, the weight of the evidence and the defendant’s history. It says that although some evidence may be introduced during a detention hearing, courts “shall not require any party to submit evidence or information in any particular form.”

The proposal would limit the purpose of a detention proceeding to determining whether the defendant presents a danger to the community. Prosecutors said the detention hearings have turned into “discovery litigation” because they’ve been required to present evidence.

“There are Republican DAs and Democratic DAs (who agree with the proposed changes), people who represent urban constituents and rural constituents, and we’ve all come together because we’re all having the same sorts of problems,” said Raúl Torrez, the district attorney in Bernalillo County. “It’s pretty rare that you can see folks from places that are so different … come together and support these types of rules.”

Officials from the Public Defender’s Office in Albuquerque could not be reached for comment Thursday. Artie Pepin, director of the administrative office of the courts, said the prosecutors’ suggestions will be considered.

New pretrial rules issued by the state Supreme Court went into effect on July 1 after voters and the Legislature approved a constitutional amendment that says dangerous defendants should be held without bail but others should not be held without bail just because they can’t afford to post bail.

But eight of the state’s 13 district attorneys met in Albuquerque on Thursday to say they’re having similar problems since the new rules went into effect. Judges around the state have different expectations about what evidence prosecutors should provide, and there’s been an increase in failure to appear in court because so many people are being released from jail, prosecutors said.

Dianna Luce, district attorney for Eddy, Chaves and Lea counties, said that from January through June, Hobbs police reported that 150 defendants they arrested fail to appear in court. Since the new rules went into effect on July 1, Hobbs police have issued 230 warrants for failure to appear.

“These stats alone from one city in my district are huge,” Luce said. “We’re seeing these kind of numbers statewide.”

Rick Tedrow, the president of the state District Attorney’s Association and the DA in San Juan County, said in a letter to Chief Justice Judith Nakamura that the proposed changes are “even-handed and conservative.”

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