ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A theft ring in Farmington, an armed robber in Albuquerque and a drug dealer in southern New Mexico with a violent criminal history.
Those are some of the criminal cases around the state in which prosecutors have tried to hold the defendant without bond pending trial.
But what prosecutors have to do in order to get that court order varies depending on the judge – and district attorneys say they need some guidance on what the procedure should be.
On Tuesday, several New Mexico district attorneys said they’re in support of 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez and his attempt to get a New Mexico Supreme Court opinion on the protocols prosecutors have to follow before a defendant is held without bond.
Torrez is scheduled to appear before the state’s high court this morning to make his case.
Attorney General Hector Balderas has said in a court filing that he also wants clarification on the matter. Defense attorneys have said prosecutors should be required to present evidence in open court in order to hold a suspect without bond.
Several district attorneys said the question is what should happen at the detention hearing. Do prosecutors have to call witnesses and investigators to testify? Or are public documents, such as criminal complaints, enough to hold a defendant without bond?
“Most of my crime is committed an hour away from my district court,” said John Sugg, the district attorney for Otero and Lincoln counties. “If I have to haul everybody in within a tight time frame of three days, that’s really hard to get organized.”
And it’s problematic for judges in different judicial districts to enforce the law differently, said Rick Tedrow, the district attorney in San Juan County. He said district attorneys often prosecute cases from different judicial districts if one DA has a conflict of interest and can’t prosecute a particular case.
“I need to know the rules,” said Tedrow, who is the president of the New Mexico District Attorneys Association. “Right now, if Raúl needed somebody to come in and take a conflict (case), everybody would scratch their head and say, ‘I don’t know what the rules are.'”
Tedrow and other district attorneys said they seek no-bond holds only for the most serious and repeat criminals.
Torrez last month filed a petition to the state Supreme Court after state District Court Judge Stan Whitaker denied to hold a suspect, Paul Salas, in jail on a no-bond hold unless prosecutors called witnesses and presented some evidence about the case.
Whitaker denied the no-bond hold and set Salas’ bond at $100,000 cash. The judge reached a similar ruling when prosecutors asked that he hold a man suspected of shooting his girlfriend.
The petition also asks the Supreme Court to force Whitaker to reconsider his decision in those two cases.
Judges are allowed to hold certain criminal defendants without bond after voters overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the state Constitution. The amendment allows some defendants to be held without bond pending trial, but also states that the majority of defendants should get a bond that they can afford.
Torrez has said he’s tried to get a no-bond hold for about 75 criminal defendants this year, but judges have sided with prosecutors only about a third of the time.