In letter to New Mexico Supreme Court, DA Torrez pushes procedural changes

[anvplayer video=”5095569″ station=”998127″]

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – COVID-19 changed many things in the last two years, including the criminal justice system. Jury trials were completely halted, hearings were conducted virtually – and in many ways, the slow wheels of justice turned even slower.

But now – as the state’s Supreme Court is deciding how the court system will return to its "new normal."

The Case Management Order (CMO) operates kind of like a shot clock in basketball. When a case is initiated, the clock starts. There are all sorts of deadlines for prosecutors and the defense.

Back in August, KOB 4 examined the Case Management Order. It is a set of procedural deadlines that only applies in Bernalillo County. It was designed to keep cases moving after a backlog of cases piled up in the Second Judicial District, and low-level offenders were spending months – or years – behind bars waiting for their cases to be called.

"It was very encouraging that they reached out and said we’re interested in hearing from justice stakeholders," said Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez.

Now, the Second Judicial District Attorney says the New Mexico Supreme Court has a unique opportunity – with COVID restrictions being lifted – to re-examine and perhaps improve how the judicial system operates.

Torrez would like to see the Case Management Order tossed out. In an 8-page letter to the New Mexico Supreme Court, he lays out his argument on why. However, in anticipation that doesn’t happen, he also has other ideas.

"If the court decides this is an adjustment they don’t want to make – they want to keep the CMO in place. Then, then my argument is one of basic fairness. Then it should be applied everywhere. It should be applied to every county in this state," said Torrez.

In the letter, Torrez suggests only applying the CMO deadlines for defendants in jail. Allowing pre-trial interviews for people – like police – to give testimony virtually. He also wants to get rid of mandatory sanctions, which often means a case gets dismissed if a deadline gets missed.

Furthermore, he said the desire to move low-level cases through the system faster has led to unintended consequences.

"The shortest timelines are for the lowest level offenders, so for the people who are the least likely to be detained, for the people who are least likely to receive a substantial prison sentence, we have to move fast – we expect all the justice partners to move faster on those individuals than we do any other part of the system."

He says that means officer, investigators, and prosecutors are all spending more resources on less serious crimes.

"It comes at the expense of building a better case on somebody who is more violent or more dangerous."

The power is in the hands of New Mexico’s highest court, and Torrez said changes could go a long way to turn around the crime crisis.

"So, it’s my hope that the court will take this opportunity to reflect on these proposals and perhaps give Bernalillo County and law enforcement and police officers a chance, a real chance, to get more officers out on the street and do more proactive policing and comprehensive investigations."

KOB 4 reached out to a spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts about the letter DA Torrez sent – but never heard back.