Editorial: Defendant's GPS data is a real public safety issue - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Defendant’s GPS data is a real public safety issue

District Attorney Raúl Torrez says that, if he had been told he’d have to file a lawsuit against the court to get defendant GPS data, “I would have said, ‘You’re crazy.’ ”

It was crazy. Defendants wearing court-ordered ankle monitors agree to constant monitoring in return for staying out of jail pending trial. Last week, state District Judge James A. Noel affirmed that, ruling in favor of public safety and transparency, law enforcement, the public which pays for GPS monitoring, and Torrez, who sued the 2nd Judicial District Court for GPS data of two “violent repeat offenders.”

Noel ruled court administrators violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act when they withheld GPS data on Devin Munford and Jesse Mascareno-Haidle. After their pretrial releases, Munford was accused in the April 2021 shotgun slaying of Devon Heyborne, and Mascareno-Haidle was arrested on burglary charges.

Court administrators argued the GPS data was confidential because defendants have the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. Providing law enforcement with their GPS data negates neither. And we would point out that, if they have issues with people knowing where they go, they have the right to skip the ankle monitor and remain in jail.

GPS tracking records are integral to determining if defendants on pretrial release are complying with the conditions of their release, up to and including committing new crimes. That’s essential information for police and prosecutors.

As it stands, Torrez says law enforcement may still face obstacles because of bill wording this year that officers need reasonable suspicion that GPS data will afford new evidence and is related to a pending criminal case not older than a year. That ignores the base reason someone is on a monitor (to be watched) and is akin to saying only check fingerprints for new crimes, cold cases be damned.

The state Public Defender’s Office has a valid concern whether the minute-by-minute whereabouts of defendants “should be visible to absolutely everyone.” Perhaps not. But the Legislature needs to remove obstacles to law enforcement and hammer out who has access to what data, when and how. Justice should not be short-circuited by a bill’s unintended consequences. Police, prosecutors, victims, witnesses and taxpayers all have an interest here.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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