New jailhouse courtroom needs more thought, input - Albuquerque Journal

New jailhouse courtroom needs more thought, input

The New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, NMCDLA, is deeply concerned with Bernalillo County’s intention to build a jailhouse courtroom.

Apparently, the county is in the advanced stages of planning this project and has earmarked a considerable amount of funds to see it through. Our members cannot help but feel a little disappointed that such a significant development in our community’s criminal justice infrastructure is moving forward without any input, or any attempt to seek input, from the criminal defense bar or the public.

It is important to step back for a moment and look at this proposal through a wider lens. Historically, the placement, design and construction of courtrooms has been based on the constitutional principles that underpin our criminal justice system.

It is no accident American courthouses are centrally located buildings that are open to the public and easily accessible. Unlike other countries where the justice system can be closed or kept hidden from public view, the Constitution demands a different approach.

This is demonstrated in the architecture of the courtroom, which has remained substantially the same since 1791, and is guided by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments. Social Ideology as Seen through Courtroom and Courthouse Architecture (October 1, 1998) Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts, Vol. 22, No. 463, 1998.

Its design is deliberate in that it allows for a public seating area, a place for the judge to sit alone without prosecutorial interference, and an unbiased neutral area for the litigants, who are presumed equal under the law. It is also no accident that the location of an American courthouse is typically in a place considered unbiased and open to public scrutiny.

This open forum is essential for public trust and respect for the administration of justice. These principles have historically trumped financial expediency and security considerations not because they achieve some aesthetic purpose, but because they have been considered an important part of our democracy. Placing a courtroom in a jail located on a desert mesa, many miles from the city, is an unambiguous step in the wrong direction.

With this in mind, it is clear the county is embarking on a project that has wide-reaching social implications, yet it is doing so without input from those who arguably know most about its negative consequences.

It is also important the county taxpayers know, before the money is spent, that the project will likely result in litigation.

Given the gravity of the issues at hand, NMCDLA will not sit by idly and watch citizens be subjected to legal hearings in a secure, non-public facility.

We will insist the constitutional principles that have existed for over 200 years will not be lost just because it is cheaper to hold hearings in a jail. The lack of access to MDC, its distance from the county seat, the security restrictions on its visitors – whether witnesses, family members, crime victims or advocates – will all need to be subjected to judicial review.

In short, NMCDLA believes this attempt to save money on transportation costs will eventually do nothing of the kind. The county is in danger of spending much-needed resources on infrastructure that in all likelihood will not be used.

I caution us all to watch out when the government starts to incrementally chip away at things we take for granted. A neutral independent courthouse located in the center of the community is a democratic requirement that should not be gradually eroded away. As soon as a jailhouse courtroom is built, pressure will exist to use it for more and more hearings in more and more contexts.

We therefore urge the county to reconsider its decision to embark on this new style of jailhouse courtroom, or at the very least engage in a public debate on the issue before more money is spent.

Home » Opinion » Guest Columns » New jailhouse courtroom needs more thought, input

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 yourstory@abqjournal.com

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.
1
Editorial: NM can’t afford to go backward on government ...
Editorials
From the Editorial Board: The Inspection ... From the Editorial Board: The Inspection of Public Records Act has a presumption that citizens are entitled to the greatest possible amount of information ...
2
We need to enact omnibus crime and gun law ...
From the newspaper
OPINION: State's violent crime rate needs ... OPINION: State's violent crime rate needs the 1-2 punch of an omnibus bill focused on harsher penalties and gun-control measures.
3
Tribal Remedy Framework addresses systemic inequities
From the newspaper
OPINION: Lawmakers should support tribal approach ... OPINION: Lawmakers should support tribal approach to improve educational outcomes for Native youth.
4
Dollars alone won't solve New Mexico's problems
From the newspaper
OPINION: The current system of distributing ... OPINION: The current system of distributing capital outlay funds needs an overhaul if we want those dollars to do the most good.
5
Medicaid provider procurement process canceled
From the newspaper
HSD says decision made after departures ... HSD says decision made after departures of Secretary Scrase and Medicaid Director Nicole Comeaux
6
'It's been a great ride': Longtime Balloon Fiesta executive ...
ABQnews Seeker
Longtime Balloon Fiesta executive director is ... Longtime Balloon Fiesta executive director is retiring
7
Prep football: Lee to take over at Albuquerque Academy
Featured Sports
The architect of Hope Christian's state ... The architect of Hope Christian's state championship defense in 2019, and the man who put together Albuquerque Academy's stellar defense the last two years, ...
8
Prep notes: Gary Bradley to continue family tradition at ...
Featured Sports
From father to son to brother, ... From father to son to brother, the Bradley family football tradition will continue at Mayfield High ...
9
It's a slow(er) week, but there's no resting for ...
College
The calendar would tell you the ... The calendar would tell you the workload for the UNM basketball team this week is a light one. ...