Influential NM senator calls for scrutiny of pretrial detention tool - Albuquerque Journal

Influential NM senator calls for scrutiny of pretrial detention tool

In this file photo from 2020, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, presents a bill on the Senate floor. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE — The arrest of a suspect charged with politically motivated shootings in Albuquerque is surfacing in debate at the Roundhouse over whether to make it easier to hold more defendants in custody as they await trial.

Citing the shooting case, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, renewed his opposition Thursday to overhauling New Mexico’s pretrial detention law but called for broader scrutiny of how courts are carrying it out.

Cervantes, chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, praised the decision of a Metropolitan Court judge to keep in custody Solomon Pena — a failed legislative candidate charged in the shootings — until a detention hearing can be held.

It’s evidence, Cervantes said, that judges already have the discretion they need to hold defendants in jail when it’s appropriate as they await trial.

But he also took issue with an analytical tool considered by the courts in their decision-making. The safety assessment hadn’t recommended the highest levels of supervision if the defendant were released.

The Arnold Tool — which analyzes the likelihood a defendant will show up to court and/or commit a new crime — will get some scrutiny by the Senate Judiciary Committee this session, Cervantes said.

He told the Journal it’s a tool “with many faults but used to justify release of criminals.”

Artie Pepin, director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts, said the Arnold Tool simply recommends the level of supervision if a judge determines the defendant can be released before trial. It’s up to a judge, he said, to determine whether release is appropriate.

“Researchers have validated that the (public safety assessment) reliably gauges the likelihood of whether the person will return to court for future hearings and remain arrest-free,” Pepin said.

Pena, a Republican who lost a lopsided House race last year, has been accused by authorities of orchestrating a string of drive-by shootings targeting the homes four Democratic officials, including House Speaker Javier Martínez and state Sen. Linda Lopez.

Pena had visited the home of at least one official to raise allegations of election fraud. He lost his race by 48 percentage points, and no evidence of fraud has surfaced.

A metropolitan judge earlier this week decided to hold Pena in custody until a District Court detention hearing determines whether to release him before trial.

“The judge is doing the appropriate thing here,” Cervantes told his colleagues on the Senate floor Thursday. But “we’ll be looking for that same level of protection for all New Mexicans, not just elected officials.”

Whether to revise New Mexico’s pretrial detention system — revised by a 2016 constitutional amendment — has been a focus of debate at the Roundhouse for years.

Cervantes on Thursday spoke out against one idea in particular — legislation that would create a rebuttable presumption of dangerousness for defendants charged with certain violent crimes.

The aim of such proposals is to make it easier for more defendants to be held in custody before they’ve been convicted — to keep them from committing new crimes.

But opponents say courts can already keep a defendant in jail if there’s no other way to protect the public.

Home » ABQnews Seeker » Influential NM senator calls for scrutiny of pretrial detention tool

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
Grammer: When it comes to fans, the obnoxious few ...
ABQnews Seeker
Utah State guard Max Shulga showed ... Utah State guard Max Shulga showed class in his response to unacceptable taunts from a few Colorado State students.
Man critically injured in Santa Fe shooting
ABQnews Seeker
A man was critically injured after ... A man was critically injured after being shot in a Santa Fe apartment complex on Saturday night.
Three teenagers found dead in garage in Edgewood
ABQnews Seeker
Police said in a news release ... Police said in a news release there is no indication of foul play and it appears to have been carbon monoxide poisoning.
Man, woman killed in Hobbs hit-and-run crash
ABQnews Seeker
A man and a woman were ... A man and a woman were killed in Hobbs on Friday night after being struck by a vehicle while walking their dog, according to ...
Child, 10, allegedly sexually assaulted by foster teen at ...
ABQnews Seeker
The offices of the state child ... The offices of the state child welfare agency are used to house foster children despite New Mexico’s promise to provide them with appropriate homes.
Civilians fill in for sworn officers at Albuquerque Police ...
ABQnews Seeker
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said ... Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said he sees hiring civilians as "the forefront of the wave of the future." He added: "The civilians are ...
How close did Albuquerque come to a record-high temperature?
ABQnews Seeker
Temperatures in the Duke City reached ... Temperatures in the Duke City reached 63 degrees, said Jennifer Shoemake, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. That was the warmest ...
Study says New Mexico turning blind eye to several ...
ABQnews Seeker
A UNM study argues that the ... A UNM study argues that the state government, in its efforts to meet climate goals, stops short of requiring cuts to greenhouse gas emissions ...
5 things going on in Albuquerque this week
ABQnews Seeker
From hoops to a mid-week show, ... From hoops to a mid-week show, here’s what’s happening in the Albuquerque next week.