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#abq4ward: Bail reform efforts are working, Supreme Court justice says

Danielle Todesco
August 04, 2017 10:21 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- KOB's #abq4ward series continues with an exclusive interview with New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels. He spearheaded the bail reform in New Mexico, resulting in new court rules that have changed the way judges do business.

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Daniels recently spoke with KOB about how the changes are being implemented. Bernalillo County Chief District Court Judge Nan Nash joined Daniels in that interview.

In November, voters approved a constitutional amendment that, Daniels said, gives judges more power than ever to keep the worst of the worst in jail.

"This is not resulting in releasing more people than before. It's resulting in smarter decisions," he said.

Daniels said three years ago, the New Mexico Supreme Court created a committee of stakeholders to dissect how imposing bonds for defendants was working. He calls it a "money for freedom" system.

"Dangerous people were being released over and over again, just paying more money," he said.

And Daniels said those people were often using money obtained through theft, drug deals or other illegal means to bond out of jail.

"The counterpart of it was that we were holding a lot of low-risk people at taxpayer expense simply because they couldn't afford to buy those bail bonds," he said.

Now under the new changes, Daniels said judges now have the power to hold someone without bond. But there's a catch. Prosecutors have to file a motion to detain the suspect and prove that they are a danger to our community if they are released. Only then can the judge decide to keep them in custody.

When asked what happens to a suspect who fails to appear for their court date, Daniels said the judges have new powers to punish.

"We also created in the new rules the explicit power to judges that hadn't been spelled out in the rules before to amend conditions of release or to revoke release entirely if someone violates the conditions," he said.

If you sit in court for even just 30 minutes, you will repeatedly hear defendants released to pretrial services. That means they have to keep checking in until trial, either getting drug and alcohol tests or sometimes wearing ankle monitors. The conditions of release vary. 

MORE: What is behind the revolving door for criminals?

Daniels believes that system is working.

"There are very few that actually go on the run," he said. "Most of the people in New Mexico and nationally do it for the same reason they don't make their doctor's appointments or their dentist's appointments."

Daniels also said court reminders are proving to be more effective at getting people to show up for court than any bail bond company. 

"I feel more safe now under this constitutional amendment that the voters passed than before," Daniels said.

It is also unconstitutional for a judge to set a bond that a defendant can't afford. Daniels said for years, judges have been breaking the law by setting bonds like $1 million cash-only. It's clear that high of an amount is intended to keep them in custody. 

Now, it is the prosecutors' responsibility to file a motion asking a judge to keep someone that dangerous in custody.

Credits

Danielle Todesco

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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