As a former Rio Arriba County magistrate judge for many years, I dealt with numerous violent and non-violent criminal offenders. I have seen defendants released on bail, while others remained incarcerated for many months awaiting their trial date.
On Nov. 8th voters will determine whether we change our Constitution to allow defendants to be released without bail, on their own recognizance, and based on a promise to appear in court. In my opinion, this could be a disaster to our current judicial system.
Constitutional Amendment No. 1, if passed, will decide whether judges can hold violent defendants without bond or grant them release; which I don’t have an issue with. Currently, judges already have judicial discretion to do so, regardless of Supreme Court Rules or a constitutional change.
The Victoria Marten case proved that judges can set bond in high profile heinous crimes, as in this case where bond was set at $1.5 million dollars, and none of the accused have been able to meet that bond requirement.
The second part of the proposed amendment would allow “non-violent” offenders to be released without any bond, on their own recognizance or without any type of supervision, which is currently being done.
Crime rates have increased in urban and rural areas across the county. Property crimes such as burglary, auto theft, larceny and arson are up 11.7 percent since 2015, and they are all considered non-violent offenses.
As such, releasing these “non-violent” offenders without any bond means that the majority of those offenders will fail to appear in court. Making bond available to these individuals makes sense because the bonding companies assure that these individuals will appear in court.
What is even more concerning is when defendants do not show up in court, they are far more likely to re-offend.
The odds of a defendant becoming a permanent fugitive from justice are two and a half times greater for those released on their own recognizance than those required to post a cash or surety bond.
Bail companies effectively supervise defendants for whom they have posted a bail bond and will employ recovery agents to track down the fugitives and bring them back into custody. Local law enforcement agencies simply lack sufficient resources to track down and serve thousands of bench warrants for defendants who fail to appear and voluntarily participate in the justice system.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that bail companies return approximately 98 percent of all bailed defendants at no additional cost to taxpayers.
Judges currently have the discretion to release low-level offenders on their own recognizance. So rather than erode the quality of our judicial system, let’s preserve our judges’ discretion to make intelligent choices regarding the conditions of pretrial release from custody. Therefore, in my opinion, there is no need to change our state’s Constitution, so I urge voters to vote No to Constitutional Amendment No. 1.