In February, the Supreme Court enacted special rules for Bernalillo County. The purpose was to move cases more quickly through the system because of this county’s problems. The Supreme Court recently addressed two perfect examples of the failures of the courts. In State v. Brown, the Supreme Court found that the 2½ year pretrial detention of Brown, a murder suspect, was unconstitutional and ordered that he be released on supervision. His case was ultimately dismissed on speedy trial grounds. In State v. Serros, Serros had been held for over four years, nearly all of it in solitary confinement. The Supreme Court found that the length of the delay was patently unreasonable and dismissed the case for speedy trial violations. These, of course, are only two of the many cases in this district to be dismissed for speedy trial violations.
As a result, the Supreme Court enacted these new local rules. And, certainly, those new rules have caused issues for the DA’s Office and law enforcement, as they require that people who are presumed innocent be given their day in court as quickly as reasonably possible.
However, cases such as Jaramillo’s would have been dismissed under any rules. In his case, he and a co-defendant were arrested October 15, 2014. Jaramillo was able to post a bond, but his co-defendant was not. The state did nothing to move the case forward before a conference on February 11, 2015. At that time the case was assigned deadlines for an intermediate complexity case. The deadline for witness interviews was June 17, but they were not scheduled by the state until June 22 – more than four months after the conference. Five witnesses did not appear. Eventually, the co-defendant’s motion to dismiss was granted – as it would also have been under the old rules. Due to that dismissal, the state also dismissed Jaramillo’s case. The dismissal had almost nothing to do with the local rules.
The DA and APD claim the rules require that a case be entirely completed before the case is indicted. This is simply not true. The rules require that the state certify the case was investigated sufficiently, and that all discovery relied upon by the state is provided to the defendant. However, there are specific provisions in the rule for further investigation being disclosed to the defense, and deadlines months down the road for scientific evidence.
The DA is right that investigations were not required to be completed so quickly previously. What she doesn’t say is that some final reports were not available for months and months – sometimes over a year – after a person was arrested, all while defendants sat in jail. What she also doesn’t say is that now it is nearly impossible for a person’s speedy trial rights to be violated. She also doesn’t mention that most indicted cases are not indicted immediately – it takes months or even years. The DA is in complete control of when such cases are indicted – they can wait up to five years until they are entirely ready before indicting a case. Instead, they are going forward, then having cases dismissed when it is shown that they weren’t ready.
The DA calls these dismissals technicalities. But the Constitution isn’t a technicality. Presumption of innocence is not a technicality. Speedy trial isn’t a technicality. The New Mexico Supreme Court understands this – that’s why it instituted the new rules. They need to stay in place to protect the constitutional rights of people accused of crimes in Bernalillo County.
Hon. Jonathan L. Ibarra is a member of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and a former assistant district attorney and state District Court Judge in Bernalillo County.