The truth about the criminal justice system

The attempts by the Albuquerque Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the media to blame the District Court Case Management Order (CMO) for the problems of the criminal justice system are a deliberate decision to mislead the public that dangerous criminals are roaming our streets because the Supreme Court chose to meddle in a well-run court system. The facts are far different.

The truth is that the Albuquerque Police Department does a pretty good job of policing, though that is slipping. The truth is that some APD officers are unhappy that the command has received significant raises while the patrol officers have more duties with less resources, support and commitment for their raises. The truth is that criminal investigations by APD are increasingly substandard, with failures to identify and speak to witnesses, preserve and analyze evidence, write a coherent report and attend interviews. There is a good reason for the DOJ investigation. The (police) chief’s insistence that the problem is with the CMO is a shameful effort to evade any responsibility for the morale and professionalism problems within his department.

The truth is the DA’s office is unwilling to prioritize its resources and responsibilities. All crimes are not equal. A shoplifting is not equal to a rape. Ridiculous cases with reluctant or lying witnesses, lost evidence and improper charging are prosecuted with a zeal born of a fear of being soft on crime. The truth is that it takes courage to analyze a case, make a thoughtful decision on whether to proceed, whether to offer a reasonable plea, or whether to proceed to trial when you know your case has substantial, fatal holes. Good prosecutors are stymied by the DA’s policy that all cases should be prosecuted without regard to the unique facts of the case. The truth is that this DA’s office has the lowest conviction rates in the state. The truth is that it has nothing to do with the CMO.

The truth is that Albuquerque has always been a city with violent crime. Two major interstates and proximity to the Mexican border mean that drugs and the crime that follows happen here. Poor schools with widely uneven education results are an accepted given (as is) high unemployment, (which is) getting worse as businesses fold or move to a more hospitable location. Inadequate social services and budget cuts on the programs that serve the poorest members of our community (are) rarely questioned. The willingness by the media to call anyone arrested of a crime a thug instead of a defendant, unless it happens to be a police officer or politician, fuels the fire that smokes over the idea that the Constitution applies to everybody. The media, APD and the DA’s enthusiasm to extend deadlines in the CMO never includes any concern that some innocent person will sit in jail without a timely opportunity to test the evidence against them in court. The truth is that the Constitution exists for some people only when it is convenient.

Jody Neal-Post and I appealed the Walter Brown case to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which set the stage for the CMO. Mr. Brown had been unconstitutionally held in custody for more than 2 years. The fact is the Supreme Court’s opinion did nothing except emphasize the established law on bail. There is nothing new in the opinion, it just reminded the players in the criminal justice system to follow the law. That is a fact.

The CMO is an incredibly useful tool. It forces all members of the criminal justice system to be accountable to the idea that an accused person is presumed innocent, and the investigation, prosecution and ultimate resolution of the case should happen in a timely manner. Cases get dismissed as a result of the CMO when the players forget that this process is not about convenience, it is about justice. That is the truth.

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