Vote 4 NM: Gubernatorial candidates agree; bail reform is 'not working'
October 29, 2018 07:24 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- In the latest installment of KOB 4's Vote 4 NM series, Chris Ramirez get insight into whether political and judicial leaders believe New Mexico should undergo bail reform, again.
Both Gov Candidates on Bail Reform: “It’s not working.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why New Mexico’s crime spiked in recent years, but if you ask police and prosecutors they’ll say one of the main reasons is because judges too often let dangerous people out of jail and back on the streets. Judges have been quick to point out that they are just following new guidelines passed by voters in a constitutional amendment in 2016. The amendment was meant to ensure the poorest people in our community wouldn’t get trapped in jail simply because they were too poor to post bail. The amendment was also designed to ensure the most dangerous suspects would remain locked up. Both candidates for governor think voters got duped.
“It's clearly not working. Let's just be clear about that. It is not working,” Democratic Candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham told KOB.
“It's absolutely not working. When judges tell us they have to release people who are a danger to society-- you cannot excuse it,” said Republican Candidate Steve Pearce.
District Attorneys from around New Mexico are calling on significant changes and some say, the entire reform needs to again be reformed.
“The voters were not anticipating this happening,” said District Attorney John Sugg, who serves Otero and Lincoln Counties. “They thought they were voting on a new mechanism to hold dangerous defendants; they were not voting on releasing everybody.”
Cases in Southern New Mexico
As an example of the problem Sugg sees, he pointed to the case of Ricardo Soto. Soto is accused of abusing his 2-year-old son.
Police believe he fractured his son’s skull causing severe brain damage. The toddler died days later in a hospital. According to Sugg, the team of doctors who treated the boy unanimously agreed that the trauma was so severe, it had to be intentional. Sugg said while the boy was in the hospital, Soto fled to Mexico, changed his appearance and ditched his cell phone. When he returned to the United States, he was arrested at the border. Court documents state Soto told the court he was only visiting a relative for a few hours. But when Sugg made his case to the judge that Soto was a danger to the community and a flight risk and should be held in jail without bond, the judge disagreed and set the bond at $25,000. Soto paid $2,500 and was released from jail pending a trial.
“He's not on GPS monitoring, he's allowed to have access to children, there are no restrictions on his ability to have access to children,” Sugg said. “You're just left scratching your head wondering, how does this happen?'
Cases in the Metro
Bernalillo County district attorney Raul Torrez is frustrated by cases like Gloria Chavez’s. She was accused in helping with the execution-style murders of two men who had recently won big at a casino. Torrez’s office asked the judge to keep her in custody, but instead, the judge released Chavez to pre-trial services supervision, where she was required to wear a GPS ankle monitor. But weeks later, the DA’s office stated Chavez intentionally allowed the GPS batteries to die and she absconded. Authorities eventually found her in Santa Rosa.
Cases in Northern New Mexico
Then there is the case out of San Juan County of Guillermo Jacobo-Perez. He’s charged with 296 counts of sexual abuse of a child. The female victim told investigators Jacobo-Perez molested her every week for years. During a pretrial detention hearing, the DA’s office tried to convince a judge that Jacobo-Perez posed a threat to the community, but the judge disagreed. The judge gave Jacobo-Perez an exit out of jail if he could post a $2 million bond.
Where the Court Stands
Despite the concerns from around the state, the New Mexico State Supreme Court has remained committed to making the 2016 Bail Reform work. In an interview with KOB4 in 2017, Justice Charlie Daniels stated New Mexico is safer under the constitutional amendment that voters passed. In a statement this week, the court doubled down on that sentiment.
"New Mexicans are safer because of bail reform implemented as a result of the voter-approved constitutional amendment,” Artie Pepin, the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts wrote in a statement to KOB. “During the first year of the reform effort, about 1,000 criminal defendants were detained in jail while awaiting trial because judges determined they were too dangerous to be released. Without the amendment, those defendants would have been eligible for pretrial release under the previous money bond system. The Institute for Social Research at UNM has gathered a significant amount of data on the impact of pretrial detention and release reform and is committed to providing a report to the Legislature for lawmakers to consider in the upcoming 2019 session."
Changes are imminent
With so much discourse on this issue, it only seems like a matter of time before the reform is reformed. What’s on the table is what a second reform looks like and how New Mexico proceeds.
“In my opinion, the only thing that can fix this is another constitutional amendment,’ Sugg said. “And the reason I'm saying that is because anything else will lead to judicial interpretation. The only way to box in the Supreme Court is to change the Constitution so that there is nowhere else for them to go.”
New Mexico’s next governor is promising change
“I need to understand why any judge or any DA would fail to make the case that someone who is clearly a violent offender isn't being held,” Lujan Grisham said. “If they can't seem to get those tools right, then we will mandate it statutorily and limit that discretion. But I would like to start with, ‘why aren't we getting this right?’”
“Everybody is frustrated. The people are scared,” Pearce said. “The law enforcement officers see people getting out and coming back to the streets after they arrest them before they get back to the streets. It's a mess and I just tell people, ‘we are going to change the law if we need to, we'll change the constitution if we need to, but we are not going to allow this situation to exist.’”
Your opinion counts
In an effort to hear out the public’s concerns on this issue, the New Mexico Supreme Court is soliciting written public comments on their homepage. If you click on; "Open for Comment" it takes viewers to a form where New Mexicans can submit their thoughts. The form will be up until late November.
Updated: October 29, 2018 07:24 PM
Created: October 28, 2018 09:18 PM
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