Criminal justice reform needed - Albuquerque Journal

Criminal justice reform needed

On the heels of the U.S. Congress announcing its initiative of lower drug sentencing, Albuquerque Mayor R.J. Berry vetoed the city council’s passage of decriminalization of marijuana.

In his veto message, the mayor was firm; it is bad public policy to enact city ordinances that preempt state and federal law.

I agree, this type of conflict in laws makes for legal chaos, and does not give citizens who want to be law abiding guidance on what is legal and illegal. It becomes confusing for law abiding citizens and sets the police up for civil rights lawsuits for either acting or failing to act against certain behaviors.

In summary, people deserve to live in order, not chaos, and citizens should have the laws that govern them be clear and consistent.

New FBI statistics confirm that Albuquerque’s crime is on the rise.

By way of example, my home has been the victim of three property crimes in just three weeks. All three acts of vandalism occurred while my children and I were at home.

These acts of vandalism are not due to a lack of marijuana reform. The rise in property crime is just one symptom of a need for total criminal justice reform.

In Albuquerque alone there are still too many victims and too many people living in fear. Change is needed. But that reform should not take a piece-meal approach.

Albuquerque enacting laws that are in conflict with state and federal laws will create a patchwork of conflicting laws. That is not effective reform. The reform must begin at the highest levels in order to avoid the problem of some activities being criminal in some places and not in others.

Whether or not marijuana is decriminalized in the city of Albuquerque will not make a dent in the overall crime rate. Marijuana is not the problem.

Some say legalization of marijuana will divert money from the enforcement of low level marijuana offenders to the prosecution of other crimes. As a taxpayer, I am willing to pay what it takes to keep communities safe. But in return for my tax dollars, I want a system that works.

As a criminal law practitioner, I haven’t seen a prosecution for possession of misdemeanor amounts of marijuana in years. Distribution of marijuana, yes, but not a prosecution for possession of less than 8 ounces of marijuana.

Marijuana cases do not burden our judicial system or waste our tax dollars. Repeat offenders and violent offenders burden our system.

Some laws enhance safety, others have little effect on safety, and some may actively diminish public safety because law enforcement dollars are being spent inefficiently. Ultimately, the question underlying every tax dollar that is spent on fighting crime ought to be: Is this making the public safer?

Our tax dollars should be spent to enhance safety and that means keeping repeat violent offenders off the streets.

Unfortunately our system is allowing violent and repeat offenders back onto our streets. That is due to a combination of new court rules, bonding changes and ineffective prosecutors.

Property crime offenders and repeat violent offenders are a real and serious threat; they threaten our safety and our children. And that is where the criminal reform focus should be.

Our lawmakers must work toward enacting strong and consistent criminal statutes that have meaning and purpose. State lawmakers must step up to the plate and pass meaningful reform that our governor is willing to sign; and the police and prosecutors must have the ability to follow through with the cases.

I do not oppose the decriminalization of low levels of marijuana possession for adult use in their own homes but let’s be honest: decriminalization of marijuana will have very little, if any, effect on crime, courts or corrections.

However, getting violent offenders off the streets will save money, reduce fears and protect citizens.

Now, that would be meaningful reform.


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