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Pretrial program aims to provide more information

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s state court system says it is working to give judges better access to information they may need when determining whether to release or detain criminal defendants as they await trial.

In a news release Monday, the Administrative Office of the Courts wrote that a new pretrial services program will conduct background checks and risk assessments on behalf of magistrate and district judges in Sandoval and San Juan counties. The agency said the program will expand to additional courts as funding permits. San Juan County is set to begin next month using the Public Safety Assessment already in place in Bernalillo County. Designed by Arnold Ventures, the research-based tool aims to predict how likely a defendant is to show up to court and to commit a new crime. Courts in Sandoval County will implement the assessment in March.

The AOC is also expanding a program that sends defendants text and email reminders about upcoming court hearings. It is piloting the program in San Juan and Sandoval counties with plans to make it available in more courthouses by late June.

The office is also expanding court programs that monitor defendants who have been released pretrial. The Legislature provided $585,000 to begin the first phase to implement pretrial services programs statewide. The AOC is seeking another $844,000 to begin and enhance programs in more courts across New Mexico, according to the news release.

“The Judiciary is building a robust data-driven pretrial system to help judges statewide make the difficult decisions on whether a person charged with a crime should remain free or be detained before trial, and the level of monitoring that released defendants need to ensure they return for court appearances,” Artie Pepin, AOC director, said in the release.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court asked a new committee to consider possible changes to pretrial detention procedures. The current system has come under fire over the past year, with some elected officials saying it doesn’t do enough to protect the public. The Bernalillo County district attorney has called for revisions that would make it easier to detain defendants accused of certain crimes while expanding the grounds for detention. He has said that the current system is “failing to protect the public and must be addressed comprehensively through new legislation.”

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