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Governor renews call for stiffer penalties against criminals

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez has renewed her call for stiffer criminal penalties, saying in a Tuesday social media post that career criminals are “terrorizing” New Mexico residents.

State Police officer Dwayne Simpson’s badge absorbed most of the force of a bullet fired by a suspect during a traffic stop in Farmington. (SOURCE: Gov. Susana Martinez)

The two-term Republican governor, a former prosecutor, posted a photo of State Police officer Dwayne Simpson’s badge, which was struck by a bullet fired by a suspect in Farmington during a recent traffic stop.

The officer was wounded in the incident, in which police shot and killed 26-year-old William Wilson, who had previously been arrested 17 times and was reportedly released from jail just weeks before the shooting after being fitted with an ankle monitor.

“Over and over again, I’ve asked the Legislature to end the revolving-door justice system, and year after year they fail to act,” Martinez wrote on Facebook. “Officer Simpson’s bravery highlights the need to act once and for all on tougher crime legislation.”

Martinez and GOP lawmakers have pushed in recent years to reinstate New Mexico’s death penalty for certain criminal offenses and to broaden a rarely used “three-strikes” law that mandates life in prison for some felons.

However, such attempts have been largely unsuccessful in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, with critics describing them as politically motivated and unwise given state budget constraints.

The governor, whose second term ends in 2018, will propose legislation during next year’s 30-day session to enhance criminal penalties and give prosecutors and police more tools to combat violent crime, a Martinez spokesman told the Journal.

However, Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, suggested the proposals could face long odds in the Roundhouse.

“I think we’re trying to be smarter on crime, as opposed to tougher on crime,” said Chasey, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee. “If (the governor) wants to lock everyone up, that’s going to cost more money.”

She said investing more money in prevention programs, including early childhood initiatives, could be a more effective approach.

Meanwhile, Martinez also took aim Tuesday at pretrial detention rules issued in July by the New Mexico Supreme Court after state voters approved a constitutional amendment last year. District attorneys recently proposed changes to the rules, which are used to hold certain defendants without bail.

“Across New Mexico, we’re seeing career criminals back on the streets – sometimes even in a matter of hours – terrorizing our citizens,” Martinez wrote, adding she supports the prosecutors’ plan to change how detention hearings are conducted.

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