NM judiciary set to expand pretrial GPS monitoring - Albuquerque Journal

NM judiciary set to expand pretrial GPS monitoring

District Court officials are considering developing new policy to help judges determine when GPS monitoring is an appropriate condition of release for a defendant awaiting trial
A corrections officer places a GPS monitor on an ankle. The judiciary unveiled a plan Monday intended to better monitor defendants released with GPS devices and promptly notify law enforcement and victims of suspected violations. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

State courts announced plans Monday for a 24/7 alert system to notify law enforcement if someone wearing an electronic monitoring device violates conditions of release.

The plan calls for round-the-clock staffing to watch for violations by defendants wearing electronic monitors and an on-call judge available to issue arrest warrants, the Administrative Office of the Courts announced.

Under the existing system in Bernalillo County, monitoring was performed by staff at 2nd Judicial District Court and Bernalillo County Metro Court from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The court also had an agreement with Bernalillo County to perform monitoring overnight, said AOC spokesman Barry Massey.

The plan also sets out a mechanism to more quickly notify law enforcement, prosecutors and victims when criminal defendants violate conditions of their release.

“This improvement supports public safety by helping courts and law enforcement respond promptly to alerts 24/7 when an electronic monitor indicates defendants violated court-imposed restrictions on their movement in the community,” New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Vigil said in a written statement.

The announcement follows calls by police and prosecutors for improved monitoring after a murder suspect escaped custody last month by cutting off his ankle bracelet.

Albuquerque police said they were not officially notified by the court and took 24 hours before issuing an arrest warrant. A prosecutor on the case maintained she told the homicide unit within hours of the bracelet being cut.

The defendant was later arrested and remained in custody Monday in the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Harold Medina, chief of the Albuquerque Police Department, criticized judges for “putting too much faith in ankle monitors, rather than keeping offenders in jail.”

The issue also is part of a larger debate about when, and if, judges should release defendants charged with violent crimes pending trial.

Judges can order defendants released from jail while awaiting trial to wear electronic ankle bracelets that track their whereabouts using Global Positioning System, or GPS, technology.

Medina and District Attorney Raúl Torrez sent a letter last month to Chief Judge Stan Whitaker of the 2nd Judicial District, asking pretrial services to monitor GPS tracking “24/7” and promptly notify law enforcement of a violation.

“We are glad to see the Administrative Office of the Courts take this action to implement 24/7 monitoring for defendants released with GPS devices,” Torrez’s office said Monday in a written statement.

Medina also expressed approval of the court’s plan.

“I appreciate the willingness of the Courts to add more staff and effectively monitor dangerous suspects who are waiting for trial,” Medina said in a written statement. “If these suspects are not held in jail, the public deserves to know they are being closely monitored every minute they are in the community.”

The new plan calls for designated AOC staff to oversee the alert system at night and on weekends and holidays, according to the announcement. The 2nd Judicial District Court and Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court will continue monitoring during regular business hours.

Approximately 160 people are on electronic monitoring at any given time in Bernalillo County, court officials said.

The judiciary is hiring six new staff members to serve as after-hours monitors, Massey said. The judiciary also plans to seek funding during the 2022 legislative session to continue the program.

The court estimates the alert monitoring program will cost $1.6 million through June 2023. The program will begin in Bernalillo County in October and expand next year to other judicial districts that have implemented pretrial services.

The court on Monday issued a statement describing how the new system will work.

The monitors will issue a “high alert” when defendants leave areas to which they are restricted.

Other circumstances that can trigger a high alert include curfew violations and any attempt to remove or tamper with the device.

Once a high alert is issued monitors would:

• Investigate promptly, including calling the defendant.

• Request a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest. On-call judges will be available to issue warrants outside usual business hours.

• Email bench warrants to law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office and the defendant’s lawyer.

• Call the crime victim and seek a welfare check by law enforcement.

• Provide law enforcement with the defendant’s last-known location based on GPS coordinates.

AOC Director Artie Pepin said the plan will help ensure a balance between public safety and the rights of criminal defendants who are “presumed innocent under the law.”

“Courts are committed to working with justice system partners to promote the safety of our communities by improving pretrial practices while honoring the constitutional principles that protect all Americans,” Pepin said in the statement.

Editor’s note: A comment from Albuquerque Police Department Chief Harold Medina expressing approval of the court’s plan was omitted from the original published article.

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