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          Front Page




Plea Limits Sought for Prior Offenders

By T.J. Wilham
Journal Staff Writer
          Former District Attorney Jeff Romero sought stiffer penalties against repeat offenders than current DA Kari Brandenburg, according to statistics released Friday.
        But the numbers are flawed, Brandenburg said.
        The statistics, compiled by the Administrative Office of the District Attorney, or AODA, were released during a news conference as Mayor Martin Chávez announced plans to seek legislation to crack down on gangs and repeat offenders.
        Chávez said he wants a law that would prevent prosecutors from reaching plea agreements that dismiss sentencing enhancements for repeat offenders.
        "If we can't get a DA to get you, we are going to get you," Chávez said.
        The mayor supported Brandenburg during the most recent election, and the two have been longtime political allies. Chávez said the problem with sentence enhancements exists statewide, not just with Brandenburg's office.
        "There has been a dramatic drop in the number of these (enhancements) being brought. They are being plea-bargained out. The end of that is that sentences are lenient and so people are committing ... these violent felonies with a modicum of impunity," Chávez said.
        "That is simply not acceptable. You can't plea-bargain out habitual offender status."
        But Brandenburg said the statistics released by the Mayor's Office are not valid and called Chavez's plan "insane."
        Under state law, defendants with prior felonies can have up to eight years added to their sentences, depending on how many convictions they have on previous felonies.
        "The whole system would come crashing down," Brandenburg said. "Talk about less justice. That would undo all plea bargaining in all cases in which someone has a prior. Can you imagine what that would do to the system? To do something blanket like that is insane."
        Chávez has not drafted legislation, nor does he have a legislative sponsor. The mayor said he expects to find a sponsor next week, adding that he will be lobbying in Santa Fe next month.
        He put out a public appeal for anyone who has been a victim of violent crime and is willing to go to Santa Fe and testify to the Legislature to call his office.
        According to the data released by the Mayor's Office, in 2000, a year before Brandenburg took office, then-District Attorney Romero sought the repeat offender sentencing enhancement 839 times.
        Brandenburg has sought enhanced sentencing 241 times this year, the most she has done so since taking office in 2001. She pursued it 104 times in 2001.
        Brandenburg said she had seen those statistics and had questioned them with the AODA. She said the association admitted to her that the numbers were flawed.
        The Journal was given the same statistics by Brandenburg's Republican challenger in the previous election, Lisa Torraco. At the time, Torraco said the statistics came from the AODA.
        The Journal contacted the association in October to confirm their validity, but the association said at the time that the statistics didn't come from them.
        But on Friday, Randy Saavedra, AODA director, acknowledged that the statistics were produced by his office for the city and that he was mistaken last fall when he said his office didn't produce them.
        The mayor on Friday also said he wants the Legislature to pass bills that would allow the city to sue gang members in civil court for damages to property, such as graffiti, and he wants a tougher three-strikes law.
        Last month, Sheriff Darren White held a news conference with Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, announcing a bill that would stiffen the three-strikes law. White and other Republicans have tried to expand the law since 1997.