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Double trouble for judges

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Jail inmates like Valentin Garcia and Jamphal Wangyal are putting Bernalillo County District Court judges between the proverbial rock and hard place.

If a judge sets a bail bond too high, they are accused by defense lawyers of violating Supreme Court decisions that say anyone charged with a crime is entitled to a reasonable bond under the New Mexico Constitution. Set bail too low or allow release on recognizance, and the accused walks out the revolving door to commit more crimes or takes off.

And that means more victims, angry cops and disgruntled voters.

Bail bondsmen claim pretrial release without bond puts the community in danger because there is no real deterrent to a defendant who ignores the court’s conditions of release.

Critics of the bail bond system respond that bonds do less to keep the community safe compared to pretrial release programs – serving only to enrich the bondsman through fees paid by the victim and the victim’s family.

The cases of Garcia and Wangyal are illustrative.

Garcia was released on bail bonds in three different felony cases. Despite 15 counts of aggravated assault and eight counts of armed robbery, Wangyal was released on his own recognizance.

They each had prior felony convictions and a penchant for tattoos. Garcia has “South Side” inked on his chest, while Wangyal has Tibetan writing on his back.

But under a state Supreme Court ruling last year, both were entitled to be released from custody without being required to post “excessive bail” and to be placed on the least restrictive conditions necessary to reasonably assure both the defendant’s appearance in court and the safety of the community.

It’s impossible to say how those restrictions are set because the written recommendations of pretrial services to judges on an inmate’s release are secret.

The public has no way to assess how the system really works – whether the recommendation is for a monetary bond or for some other form of pretrial release. The courts contend these are social records.

The verbal recommendations made in open court, by the court employee, or comments made by the judge are made on the record.

Meanwhile, there are only limited provisions that allow judges to order someone held without bail or the possibility of release pending trial.

Different judges tried to find a balance between the Supreme Court’s ruling, Garcia’s “gangster” life and Wangyal’s crime spree.

Neither worked.

Garcia case

Bail bond companies posted a $1,000 bond for Garcia when he was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, a $35,000 bond for trafficking in a controlled substance and a $2,500 bond for possession of a controlled substance.

GARCIA: Bailed out on 3 different felony cases

GARCIA: Bailed out on 3 different felony cases

In March, the 22-year-old Garcia called one of his bail bondsmen and said he couldn’t come to Bernalillo County District Court for a hearing in one of his three felony cases – because a federal warrant had since been issued for him on another charge. He told his bondsman that he was afraid if he appeared in state court, he would be arrested by U.S. marshals.

Despite the bondsman’s advice that he should appear, Garcia didn’t show up in state court.

In May, the federal warrant finally caught up to Garcia when he was arrested on charges that he robbed drugs from a CVS Pharmacy at gunpoint – while he was out on bond on the state charges.

According to court documents, Garcia told an Albuquerque police detective when he was arrested on the federal warrant that he “was ready to do his time, when you live the life of a ‘G’ (gangster), you have to live with the consequences.”

He said he could easily do 10 years and that his “homies” told him the food is better in federal custody.

Garcia is now in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service awaiting trial – held without bond.

Wangyal case

Wangyal, 31, was arrested late last year and charged with going on an armed robbery spree, holding up eight different Albuquerque fast-food restaurants at gunpoint and assaulting 15 different people during those robberies.

Some of the robberies were caught on store videotape systems.

WANGYAL: Armed robbery spree, 15 assaults

WANGYAL: Armed robbery spree, 15 assaults

He was held on $150,000 bond, but his attorney filed legal arguments based on the Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Brown that Wangyal was entitled to reasonable bond and that his bond should be reduced.

Any public safety concerns could be easily addressed, his attorney argued, by putting a GPS ankle bracelet on Wangyal.

In April, Wangyal was released on his own recognizance, with conditions that he be supervised by the court-run Pretrial Services Division and wear an GPS monitor on his ankle, along with other restrictions.

So he cut off the monitor.

In July, a bench warrant was issued for Wangyal’s arrest for doing so.

He was found in August lying on the ground near Texas and East Central, unresponsive but breathing. Police identified him and found the warrant for his arrest.

He is now being held without bond at the Metropolitan Detention Center.