Sealed documents at center of why 17-year-old was mistakenly held for murder | KOB 4

Sealed documents at center of why 17-year-old was mistakenly held for murder

Ryan Laughlin
Updated: December 06, 2019 02:14 AM
Created: December 05, 2019 06:20 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- A 17-year-old, mistakenly arrested for murder, didn’t know the details about the crime she was originally accused of committing.

Gisell Estrada’s case was sealed, which meant she only knew that she was being charged with murder. However, she wasn’t immediately granted access to court documents, which detail why she was considered a suspect.

Matthew Coyte, former president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said he has real concerns about how cases are being handled.

“They shouldn't be charging you and detaining you before they have the facts determined," Coyte said.

Prosecutors say information is only sealed in the most serious cases.

“The reasons are to protect the community, to protect law enforcement, to protect civilian witnesses who have seen a crime or a victim of a crime," said Greer Rose, deputy district attorney.

Once Estrada's case was unsealed, the prosecutors and defense have a different story about when they had access to the criminal complaint.

"The same day that she turned herself in, that arrest warrant was unsealed and I think, it, the court paperwork shows that,” Rose said.

However, Estrada’s defense attorney said they were only given a copy of the allegations minutes before her initial hearing. By that time, he said it was too late because a pretrial detention motion had forced Estrada to stay in jail until her case could be heard in District Court.

That hearing was several days later. At that hearing, Estrada was released.

Some believe that the more information being withheld could lead to more stories like Estrada's.

“You'll just have more examples - shocking examples like the 17-year-old - who are placed in an untenable position where they don't know what they are defending," Coyte said.

KOB 4 asked if there is a way to show how often the state is asking for criminal complaints to be sealed. No one was able to answer that question.

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