Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico has failed to fulfill a promise made to voters who overwhelmingly approved bail reform in 2016, 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez told a civic group Wednesday.
Too often, the result is that violent offenders, particularly those who used a firearm, are released from jail while awaiting trial, Torrez told a breakfast meeting of the Economic Forum.
Torrez is seeking support for legislation that would make it easier for judges to hold people awaiting trial for violent crimes such as murder and criminal sexual penetration.
He contends that judges don’t give enough weight to crimes involving firearms.
“I actually lose more detention cases when there’s a firearm involved than when a firearm is not involved,” Torrez said. “It’s one of the more bizarre aspects of the system that we’ve created.”
As evidence, he offered data – from January 2017 through September 2021 – that judges were less likely to grant motions for pretrial detention in cases that involve a firearm. In cases of people charged with a violent crime, judges granted 51.7% of detention motions. But in those violent crime cases involving a firearm, judges granted only 49.3% of motions, Torrez said.
“If you are in a community that is being rocked by gun violence, you should weight heavily the presence of a firearm in making a detention decision,” Torrez said in an interview after the meeting.
Judicial leaders have fired back at critics, citing research showing that only a small minority of defendants commit crimes while free pending trial. An analysis by the University of New Mexico Institute for Social Research found that of more than 10,000 felony cases in Bernalillo County, 95% of defendants were not arrested for a violent crime while on pretrial release.
New Mexico voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that largely did away with money bail bonds. The old system drew fire because it kept nonviolent offenders in jail because they couldn’t afford to post bail.
But Torrez said New Mexico has failed to live up to a key intent of the amendment that gave judges authority to hold defendants awaiting trial if they are deemed a risk to public safety.
Torrez’s proposed legislation would create a “rebuttable presumption against release” in first- and second-degree murder cases, voluntary manslaughter, criminal sexual penetration and certain crimes against children.