Political attacks on criminal defense lawyers for doing their important and difficult job is rampant in New Mexico politics. That needs to stop.
Our Constitution requires criminal defense lawyers, and a criminal defense lawyer’s job is to ensure that everyone’s constitutional rights are upheld.
In our justice system, criminal defense lawyers are the only ones in the courtroom who stand between the overwhelming power of the government and ordinary citizens. And that is hard. And working with the accused is hard.
Accused people come to criminal defense attorneys during chaotic times looking for advice and counsel. Whether guilty or not, their defense attorney has to help them navigate a treacherous and frequently illogical system.
Often this requires attorneys to tell their clients to immediately stop their potentially illegal behavior.
And what do criminal defense lawyers get for working hard at a tough job: attacks. This doubly so if that lawyer is also in politics.
Recently, prominent defense lawyer and Republican Sen. Lisa Torraco was targeted by the Attorney General’s Office.
Torraco is defending a person being prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office. In that case, Torraco’s client is accused of using the internet to commit a crime.
According to news accounts, Torraco gave her client the advice to stop using the internet and close all his accounts. In line with Torraco’s advice, judges routinely require people accused of internet crimes to close all their accounts and not use the internet for any purpose while their case is pending.
When a criminal defense attorney tells their client to stop the behavior that got them in trouble in the first place, that is not only good advice, but it stops criminal behavior. It is advice that contributes to safety of the community.
Based on this advice, the Attorney General’s Office, in what appears to be a politically motivated attack, has moved for Torraco to be taken off the case.
Not surprisingly, this happened right before the election. It also just so happens that as a Republican state senator, Torraco has differed with the Democrat Attorney General’s Office on legislative issues.
Last legislative session, Torraco worked hard to ensure that teenagers who sent “sexts” to one another could not be prosecuted for sending child pornography under a new law lobbied for by the Attorney General’s Office, which opposed this commonsense exemption.
But these attacks do not just come from one side of the aisle.
There have also been attacks on prominent Democratic state senators who work as criminal defense lawyers.
Recently Sen. Michael Sanchez was accused of being soft on crime when he advocated against expensive and ineffective measures hidden within crime bills. He and others rightfully question poorly written criminal bills that may be flashy and headline grabbing, but which will not work in the real world.
And in exchange, they get attacked for their professional work as criminal defense lawyers.
It is very troubling to see criminal defense lawyers attacked for political reasons for doing their job. It corrodes the criminal justice system when just being a criminal defense lawyer is grounds for accusing you of doing horrible things.
Playing politics at the expense of the criminal justice system is shameful. The New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association stands strongly against anyone, regardless of party affiliation, who uses the justice system for short-term political gain.
Katherine Stimpson is a paralegal in Las Cruces.