New Mexico court issues opinion in pre-trial detention case | KOB 4
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New Mexico court issues opinion in pre-trial detention case

The Associated Press
April 23, 2018 10:14 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday further clarified the rules around pre-trial detentions, saying judges can’t deny a defendant bail because that person is accused of a crime that would have qualified for capital punishment had the state still allowed death sentences.

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The court in an opinion said first-degree murder isn’t currently a constitutionally defined capital offense that would authorize a judge to categorically deny bail. New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009.

The opinion comes in the case of Muhammad Ameer, a suspect in a deadly stabbing and robbery last year in Albuquerque.

Prosecutors sought to keep Ameer in custody under new rules that stemmed from a bail reform amendment approved by voters in 2016. The change was aimed at ensuring dangerous or high-risk defendants awaiting trial remain incarcerated, while nonviolent defendants unable to afford bail are let go.

Instead of relying on that new authority, the district court ordered Ameer to be detained based on a 1912 constitutional provision providing an exception to the right to bail in capital offenses.

The state Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court to determine if Ameer should have been held under the new rules.

“Our holding does not mean the district court lacks authority to deny pretrial release of a defendant charged with a crime that is no longer a capital offense. In fact, our district courts now have a much broader evidence-based detention authority applicable in both capital and noncapital felony offenses,” the opinion stated.

After reviewing the history of the capital offense exception in New Mexico law and in other states, the Supreme Court unanimously held that a capital offense is a crime for which a statute authorizes the imposition of the death penalty and that pretrial detention in life imprisonment cases cannot be based on the capital offense exception.

The Bernalillo County district attorney’s office did not respond to messages seeking comment on the case and the court opinion.

Ameer is facing charges of murder and robbery with a deadly weapon. The criminal case against him is pending and court records indicate he has not entered a plea.

According to police, there was some kind of altercation between Ameer and Aaron Sieben, 30. A criminal complaint states that witnesses told police they heard Sieben yell for help as he got out of his pickup truck and ran after Ameer.

The two men were seen punching each other on the sidewalk and then the fight spilled onto the road. Witnesses told police Ameer pulled out a knife.

According to the complaint, the witnesses saw Sieben raise his hands in the air and try to back away, but Ameer stabbed him. After Sieben fell to the ground, Ameer allegedly rifled through his pockets, took his wallet and ran away, police said. Officers later took Ameer into custody.

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The Associated Press

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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