A recent Journal article about the role of social media in publicizing crime raised the specter of vigilante justice, a topic with deep roots in New Mexico. An expert quoted in the article says, “The underlying issue here is also a distrust of the state’s ability to efficiently enact crime control and perform criminal justice.”
As distrust in the state’s ability to “perform criminal justice” grows, we’ve been treated to the unusual public theater of Bernalillo County judges trying to reduce the district attorney’s reliance on grand juries. The dispute gives citizens a rare opportunity to see behind the scenes of our legal system, offering insights into civil cases, too.
But first some background. Any person charged with a crime is entitled to a prompt determination whether the evidence gathered by police establishes probable cause to believe the person committed the crime. In the absence of probable cause, charges must be dropped. Probable cause is far from proof of guilt but means enough evidence to make it reasonable to require the person to answer the accusation.