Court ‘clarifies’ how judges use tool in pretrial detention hearings

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An announcement involving Bernalillo County’s justice system captured the attention of many attorneys and judges Thursday.

The Second Judicial District Court said it is issuing a clarification involving how judges decide whether someone accused of a crime stays in jail until their trial. Top prosecutors said the clarification is an impactful change.

The announcement from a courts spokesperson centered around the Arnold Tool, which many prosecutors and members of the public believe is controversial and too lenient.

The spokesperson said judges do not use the tool to decide whether someone accused of a crime stays in jail until their trial. They only have the ability to use the tool when deciding someone’s conditions of release, like wearing an ankle monitor.

KOB 4 spoke with Second Judicial District Court Chief Judge Marie Ward about what the announcement means.

“To essentially clarify and get rid of some misconceptions around the tool,” she said. “I think that provides clarity to the community, to even those in the media.”

Many who oppose the Arnold Tool believe it leads to judges releasing people who are dangerous.

District Attorney Sam Bregman celebrated the announcement Thursday. He believes it will lead to more people staying in jail until their trial, and he claims judges are sometimes considering this tool when they rule to release someone – even though they shouldn’t.

“I think, in large part, that has to do with the Arnold Tool improperly influencing judges’ decisions,” he said. “I think it’s going to make a very big difference.”

Public defenders have supported how judges use the tool.

KOB 4 asked District Defender Dennica Torres what the announcement means to them.

“The announcement about the PSA (Public Safety Assessment) is really just clarification. It’s the judges clarifying the process, and we always appreciate when they step in and clarify processes for us.”

A courts spokesperson said they will study the pretrial detention data over the next year to see if more changes are needed.