Updated: February 07, 2020 10:23 PM
Created: February 07, 2020 09:29 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- A New Mexico lawmaker believes the legislature needs to make changes to bail reform.
State Rep. Bill Rehm, a Republican from Albuquerque, introduced a bill that he believes is part of the solution-- by making it easier for prosecutors to keep a suspect in jail before trial.
“Right now, we're only looking at dangerousness of an individual and we're not looking at the charge they're under, we're not looking at their past criminal history, or their past failure to appear in court and we should be,” Rehm said.
According to the Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office, judges granted 53% of pretrial detention motions in 2019, up from 42% in 2018.
Rehm's bill calls on judges to keep a suspect locked up pretrial if the defendant is charged with a first-degree felony, a serious violent offense, was previously convicted of a felony or has previously violated conditions of pretrial release for any offense – unless the defense can prove the defendant won't be a danger if released.
“We the legislature would now determine what dangerousness would be and these individuals should be held for that,” Rehm said.
Rehm's bill has its critics -- like chief public defender Ben Baur.
“I think the results would be that it would keep far more people in jail who actually are not dangerous and that isn't good for public safety because what we see and what data has shown is that if people are held in jail for too long, they lose touch with their community, their job, their family, and they're more likely to commit new crimes when they get out,” Baur said. “So in meaning to keep the public safer, in the end what we would be doing is actually making the public less safe."
Baur thinks, for the most part, the current pretrial detention system is working.
“There's a lot of data that's been provided by, let's say, Finance Council and by the University of New Mexico, that shows that this system is accurate in predicting who may commit crimes, who may get out, and of course there will always be some tragic crimes that happen. But that would happen under any system,” Baur said.
The debate about pretrial detention may be premature. The governor has not added Rehm’s bill to the agenda this legislative session.
A spokesperson for the governor said, “HB 32 does not have a message at this time – the governor's office continues to work with the Supreme Court committee to evaluate pretrial detention in New Mexico with evidence-based data and is confident in the good work that the group is doing."
In January, the committee, appointed by the state Supreme Court, met for the first time.
It’s looking at possible changes to the pretrial detention system.
The committee will submit an initial report to the Supreme Court by the end of March.
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