UPDATE: Legislation to Repeal New Mexico Supreme Court Rules Implementing the No-Money Bail System Clears First Hurdle at the Roundhouse

SJM 13, “Supreme Court—Rescind Bail Rules” clears first hurdle.

Today, the New Mexico Senate Rules Committee considered SJM 13, “Supreme Court—Rescind Bail Rules,” which is an edict from the New Mexico legislature demanding that the Court repeal the existing rules and instead implement the will of the legislature and the voters.

Senators on both sides of the aisle, including the measure’s sponsor, retired magistrate and attorney Senator Richard Martinez supported the legislation.  Senator Sanchez, a victim of the bail reform himself, described a horrific accident caused by a five-time convicted DUI offender—who killed one of Sanchez’s relatives who was in a wheel-chair while attempting to disembark from a public transportation vehicle.  That offender was released on a simple promise to appear on his sixth charge of a DUI.

The legislature referred to the ballot two years ago a constitutional change that was a compromise not intended to implement the New Jersey bail system, but that was instead implemented by the New Mexico Supreme Court in such a fashion.  In fact, Justice Daniels noted that the constitutional amendment was really largely irrelevant anyway because he was going to implement court rules that turn New Mexico’s bail system into New Jersey’s system.  Of course, numerous problems have arisen since the court made the radical shift unendorsed by the electorate or their representatives, including a complete lack of funding of New Mexico’s prosecutorial and law enforcement resources that would plug the gap of no bail by using the power of preventative detention.  Unfortunately, judges lost the discretion to set bail, which has further complicated the issue.

Much of the conversation at the hearing drove home the essence of the problem—the Supreme Court ignored the will of the voters and the legislature in the compromise system that was ultimately made.

Several members of the committee noted that what they were sold as the reforms and what ultimately took place were several different things.  Several members, including Senator Sanchez, indicated that he thought his vote on the constitutional amendment was a mistake.  Other members discussed the many conversations they are having in their districts with constituents, and how the explosion of crime in Albuquerque is finding its way into neighboring jurisdictions.  One Senator said, “New Mexico is on fire right now,” and demanded that an immediate fix be found to the situation.

Chief Justice Nakamura happened to be in the room at the time, and one of the members requested that she address the situation.  She tried to follow the lead of the ACLU of New Mexico, and claim that the new bail rules are not having an impact on the crime problem.  Yet, she presented nothing that would allow anyone to come to that conclusion.  She did have a fancy chart that explained that crime had been rising since 2010.  Yet, since her court has handcuffed judges and hamstrung prosecutors, they can barely scratch the surface in trying to keep the community safe.  Of course, she tried to pivot saying only 21 days were available to implement the rules, but actually from the time the legislation was passed in February, 2016, the Court had ten months to begin preparing for the ultimate outcome.  And Justice Daniels told the Huffington Post that they were going to implement the no-money bail system regardless, so one must assume that was thought through for some time since Daniels said the constitutional amendment was irrelevant to the ultimate outcome.

We have to think that the rate of release of violent and dangerous persons in New Mexico’s version of bail reform, which is 400% higher than in New Jersey (5% detained versus 20% detained), is having a large impact on the problem.  Or perhaps the fact that New Jersey files for detention in 43.7% of all cases compared with New Mexico’s 15%.

In addition to the slew of unaccountable releases on simple promises to appear that are reducing respect for the rule of law, which includes defendants dancing in open court to the bail reform disco or car thieves comforting each other that bail reform will get them right out, while the community meanwhile awaits the next repeat crime.

Said one of the Senators: “We can’t wait to act right now.  The citizens of New Mexico are paying the price tag every day that we choose not to fix this.

The legislation passed the Senate Rules Committee 5-2 this morning and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for another hearing on Monday, February 5.

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