In recent television ads and mailers, attorney general candidate Brian Colón is waving the bloody shirt and blaming Raúl Torrez, our incumbent district attorney, for the apparent spike in Albuquerque’s crime rate when, in fact, this unfortunate trend has been with us for many years.
Colón’s tactic is the time-honored cheap shot employed in any race against an incumbent prosecutor. Colón’s blaming Torrez and his staff for the pre-trial release of dangerous criminals and somehow placing responsibility on the District Attorney’s Office for subsequent violent offenses is so spurious as to be labeled an outright lie. The office has fought the district courts in such cases repeatedly, even appealing when the decision made by the district judge fails to protect the public. As a community spokesman, Torrez has all but begged the Supreme Court or Legislature to restore the presumption of future violent acts to our pre-trial release law. That they have continued to refuse to do so is their responsibility, not the district attorney’s.
Colón should actually read the provisions in the New Mexico statutes that delineate the duties of the attorney general. If he did so, he would discover the attorney general has very little direct prosecutorial authority and what jurisdiction he does have is under very limited circumstances. The attorney general is tasked with representing the state’s interests in civil litigation, criminal appeals, consumer protection, federal litigation, environmental issues, disputes with other states, enforcement of state compacts, even counterfeit Native American jewelry. However, nowhere will one find general prosecutorial authority for violations of the criminal code. Colón attempts to leave the voters with the mistaken impression that his office will be prosecuting major cases all over the state. The fact of the matter is that those cases are the responsibility of the local, elected district attorney, and the attorney general has no authority to act unless requested to do so by the district attorney or, in case he or she refuses to act or is somehow disqualified; a rare occurrence, indeed.
Colón also fails to mention he has never prosecuted a criminal case in his entire career of serial office-seeking. In contrast, Torrez has served with distinction as an assistant district attorney, assistant attorney general, a federal prosecutor, and worked on border and drug cartel issues, as well as violent crimes in Indian country under President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder as a White House fellow.
I served under three successive attorneys general. I believe I know something of the duties and limitations of that office. Based on education, experience and even sincerity, New Mexico would be well served by an attorney general like Raúl Torrez.
Steven Suttle was an elected district attorney in Oklahoma before moving to New Mexico to become a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque in 1991.