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Editorial: Fire 26 rounds from an AR-15, get out of jail free?

Sometimes the hustle, bustle and stress of the season can lead to a pronounced case of holiday madness.

It’s a bit apocryphal, but it’s hard to find any other explanation for the decision of Pro Tem Judge Richard Brown to release a man who, according to the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, engaged in a shootout with police – firing 26 rounds from an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon at officers sent to his home Nov. 18.

When officers arrived at the home of Anthony Juarez in Northwest Albuquerque after a call about an armed, aggressive man, according to a criminal complaint, he retrieved the rifle from his truck and opened fire. An officer fired back, hitting Juarez in the shoulder.

Prosecutors wanted Juarez held without bond – in a situation clearly contemplated by voters when they overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that would allow pretrial detention in cases where the defendant represents a danger to the community.

Prosecutor Sarah Ebbers pointed out Juarez targeted officers and put the lives of countless neighbors at risk.

But hey, in Brown’s view, a guy who pops off a couple dozen rounds from an assault-style weapon at police responding to a call doesn’t fit that “danger” description.

The judge, a retired jurist from another part of the state filling in as a pro tem, said he thought the complaint was deficient in that it appeared the detective who wrote it may have gotten his information from police officers and didn’t specify which ones.

Meanwhile, Juarez’s lawyer argued his client – a member of the National Guard with military training – had no criminal record and there was “no indication that he has ever done anything to pose a danger to the community in his 30 years – aside from the present allegation.” Well, counselor, that’s a pretty big “aside.”

And it ignores the danger Juarez also poses to himself. Not only is he clearly going through something very serious, but he was extremely lucky to just be wounded considering his actions – and he may not be that lucky if there is a next time.

Oh, and according to the complaint, as officers approached and Juarez grabbed his rifle, he said, “I have you in my sights. I will kill you.”

In what should surprise no one, Juarez got the lowest possible ranking on the 22-point scale by District Court pretrial services, in its all-too-often dysfunctional process that is supposed to predict how likely a defendant is to re-offend. Thankfully, many judges have the wisdom and courage to ignore the court’s flawed bureaucracy in clear-cut cases, and the Supreme Court has made it clear that if allegations in a case are sufficiently egregious, the defendant can be detained pending trial.

It’s also called common sense.

Judge Brown did say Juarez had to be under Pretrial Services supervision, which could be anything from a postcard about his next court appearance to an ankle monitor. He’s supposed to stay with his parents in Los Lunas. Brown also said he didn’t see anything in the record “to indicate he’s likely to do this again.”

Let’s hope not. But in a case where someone allegedly grabs an assault-style rifle, tells cops he’s going to kill them and fires off 26 rounds, the defendant should be in jail pending his or her next court date.

It might not be holiday madness at work here, but to the general public this ruling is just plain nuts. Let’s hope Judge Brown’s pro-tem days here are limited.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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