Earlier this year, the New Mexico legislature introduced Senate Joint Resolution 1 (SJR1) which would have essentially adopted the New Jersey version of bail reform that is being touted across the country. The originally proposed SJR1 would have kept dangerous defendants in jail but release everyone else other than those deemed dangerous on unsecured bonds.
Discretion of New Mexico judges to impose any financial conditions of bail would have been eliminated, instead deferring to a blanket release of most defendants with no consideration for appearance at future Court dates or accountability. Moreover, SJR1, as originally drafted, would have exposed the State to collateral legal attacks on the bail system that would have further added to the elimination of financial conditions of bail. The end result of SJR1, as introduced, would have been to virtually eliminate the necessary role played by bail agents.
The American Bail Coalition worked alongside local bail agents in New Mexico and with members of the New Mexico legislature to craft language that is good for the State of New Mexico. This compromise won unanimous approval in both chambers of the Roundhouse (NM Legislature), receiving no negative votes whatsoever. The Resolution, which makes changes to the New Mexico Constitution, will be considered by voters in November.
The final version of the Resolution does two things: (1) it allows prosecutors to request that there be no bail for serious felonies where public safety is threatened, which judges would be authorized to grant if the prosecutor brings forth clear and convincing evidence; and, (2) establishes a constitutional right to an expedited bail ruling when someone is not a risk of flight or danger to the community and they are then being held in jail solely on a bond they cannot afford.
The compromise will keep the most dangerous people in jail. Regarding the constitutional right to an expedited hearing, Senator Peter Wirth, prime sponsor of the Resolution, stated SJR1 will “add a level of procedure that is important” to the rights of criminal defendants. Jeff Clayton, Policy Director of ABC stated, “I am pleased the New Mexico legislature unanimously recognized eliminating bail agents and financial conditions of bail was not in the best interests of the People of New Mexico. It has been a pleasure working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to come up with the amended version of SJR1 that could not only pass, but could pass unanimously.”
This effort has demonstrated that public and private partnerships do work to achieve compromise in the best interests of everyone. ABC would like to recognize and commend all of the fine New Mexico bail agents who worked tirelessly on this effort, specifically Linda Contreras, Dario Gomez, Randy Gomez, Gerald Madrid, and Jackie Sanchez for their significant contributions throughout this process.
Image courtesy of manofdepravity.com