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A state district judge ruled Monday that court administrators in Bernalillo County violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act when they withheld GPS data from prosecutors on two defendants arrested for new crimes while wearing court-ordered ankle monitors.
The ruling by state District Judge James A. Noel marked a victory for District Attorney Raúl Torrez, who sued the 2nd Judicial District Court’s records custodian last December contending the ankle monitoring data was a public record and a matter of public safety.
Torrez had no immediate comment Monday evening, but a press conference on the ruling is planned in the coming days.
“The ruling is good news for public safety,” said Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos, “because it gives law enforcement more tools to hold suspects accountable. We hope we can continue to improve communication with the judiciary so we don’t have to fight for information that will help us keep the community safe.”
Efforts to reach court administrators and their attorney weren’t successful.
The state Public Defender’s Office, which opposed release of the data, was still analyzing the ruling late Monday. “We are concerned about the implication for our clients’ privacy,” said agency general counsel Adrianne Turner.
The lawsuit maintained the data is a “matter of public safety for law enforcement and the public to know whether criminal defendants permitted to stay out of jail pending trial on certain conditions of release have committed new crimes.”
But the court administration last year denied Torrez’s office’s request under IPRA for GPS data on defendants Devin Munford and Jesse Mascareno-Haidle, stating the records were confidential based on the rights of defendants to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence, among other reasons.
Munford at the time was accused of killing a man while wearing an ankle monitor. He was on pretrial release for shooting a pistol from a car.
Mascareno-Haidle was an alleged serial burglar on pretrial release; the DA’s Office sought the GPS records to investigate whether he was linked to other crimes.
Noel found that the court’s GPS records are maintained in the ordinary course of business and such information relating to the location of private citizens isn’t “an exemption or exclusion” from what is considered a public record under state law.
Moreover, Noel rejected the argument made by defense attorneys and others that criminal defendants on pretrial supervision have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their GPS data.
“Individuals on pretrial release, conditioned upon wearing GPS (which could include curfew and exclusion zones), are unambiguously aware that they are being continuously monitored ’24/7′ for the specific purpose of ensuring they do not violate their conditions of release,” stated the ruling.
“In this context, such an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy as to their location,” said Noel, a district judge in Sandoval County who was appointed to hear the case by the state Supreme Court.
Torrez maintained the GPS data also doesn’t constitute the type of confidential communication from a judge or between judges and their staff that is protected, which was another argument the custodian gave for withholding the records. Noel sided with Torrez’s argument.
Noel, who was previously the court clerk and court executive officer in the 2nd Judicial District before his judicial appointment, ordered that the GPS records requested by Torrez’s office last year be made available for inspection within 15 days.
After his release, Mascareno Haidle was arrested on new charges of burglarizing a car and is awaiting trial. Munford is also jailed on a no-bond hold; he is awaiting trial for charges in the homicide case.