ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Supreme Court has finalized how it will loosen the 2014 rules it put into place to get the Bernalillo County criminal justice framework in working order, correcting a yearslong backlog of cases that contributed to an overpopulated jail.
Cases have started to move through court faster and the jail population has come down, but District Attorney Kari Brandenburg and Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden loudly complained about the rules.
They said the strict timelines for turning over evidence and holding hearings were unworkable and resulted in cases being dropped, endangering the community by letting dangerous criminals off the hook.
The court agreed in November 2015 to look at changing the Case Management Order, or CMO, after receiving suggested changes from the Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Oversight Committee. The committee was tasked with streamlining the criminal justice system to bring down the jail population and protect the constitutional rights of innocent people.
The DA’s Office and the Albuquerque Police Department participate in that committee.
Most of the requested changes targeted extending deadlines for evidence to be turned over from police to prosecutors and for prosecutors to turn it over to defense attorneys. Under the former, and new, CMO rules, a judge can dismiss a case if parties fail to meet deadlines.
But those deadlines were sometimes unreasonable, especially in complicated cases or cases with uncooperative witnesses.
That, Eden and Brandenburg said, meant some dangerous defendant cases were being dismissed on technicalities, jeopardizing the community.
Among the changes, released Wednesday, are timeline extensions: between 30 and 90 days extra depending on case type.
The amended rules also add a new provision aimed at the complaint that the rules were releasing dangerous people from charges.
The provision allows the district attorney to lodge a community safety protest if a judge dismisses a case on a timeline violation.
Second District Court Chief Judge Nan Nash said the extensions and other changes do not threaten the improved case flow the court has experienced under the CMO.
“It gives us a bit more time to fit everything in, and, consequentially, a little bit more freedom as we get matters set for trial,” Nash said Wednesday.
She said she appreciates the Supreme Court’s collaboration and its willingness to listen to the various parties affected by the rule.
Brandenburg’s office was still reviewing the changes Wednesday night to determine how the changes will affect prosecutors’ work.
Albuquerque City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said in a statement that the changes “are a step in the right direction” but that “there are other important issues that still need to be addressed to help keep our community safe,” such as burdensome evidence requirements.
The changes go into effect Tuesday.