New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels spoke about the new bail bond amendment to the New Mexico Constitution at the 12th Judicial District Bench and Bar Association Conference at Inn of the Mountain Gods Friday.
The new changes went into effect on July 1, 2017 after voters approved the amendment to the state constitution that’s aimed at keeping the most dangerous suspects in jail while they await their trial.
Daniels said he wanted to inform everyone that it’s part of a national movement of all the state’s chief justices to try to focus on pretrial detention reform.
“It’s one of the great areas of injustice and dysfunction in the criminal justice system throughout the country,” he said. “New Mexico is not alone either in the problems nor in the attempted solution. A number of states are working on these kinds of reforms. We’re not the first. They’re a several states that are a head of us. The federal government is clearly ahead of us.”
Daniels said the commercial bail bond system started in the late 1800s.
“They went into a system that separated the people who remained free until they were presumed innocent before trial and those who were kept in jail until they were determined to be guilty or innocent,” he said. “Based on whether they could afford to buy a bail bond. The results were terrible for public safety. They were terrible for the administration of justice because what we saw throughout New Mexico and the country that the dangerous defendants who could afford to buy a bail bond or get on a bail bond payment plain could get out.”
“Studies have shown that unsecured bonds were someone knows a judgement is going to be entered against them are just as effective as a commercial bond.”
Daniels said he wants residents to understand that a bail bond is not a punishment but was a tool to assist ensuring a defendant is released from the court to face their trial and punishment.
He said the justice system saw defendants getting out on bail before seeing a judge, going out and committing more crimes and getting bailed out again.
According to the state constitutional amendment passed by voters, the amendment allows district court judges to deny bail pending trial for a defendant charged with a felony fi the prosecuting authority requests a hearing and proves by clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.
Also, a person who is not detainable on the grounds of dangerousness nor a flight risk in the absence of bond and is otherwise eligible for bail shall not be detained solely because of financial inability to post a money or property bond, according to the amendment.
“Studies have shown that unsecured bonds were someone knows a judgement is going to be entered against them are just as effective as a commercial bond,” Daniels said. “The catch and release phenomena that defendants would keep committing offenses repeatedly. Judges were powerless to do anything about it before the constitutional amendment because judges couldn’t deny release.”
He said judges should make judgements about whether to release a defendant.
“Formal rules of evidence don’t apply (in a pretrial detention hearing),” Daniels said. “We put it in our rules. The judge needs to make a judgement. Its what judges do. The judge can rule on whatever evidence the judge finds to be reliable. It can be documentary evidence. It can be a printout of a criminal record. It be the affidavit in the case. There may be a case where the judge wants to hear a witness but documents can be enough.”
He said he believes pretrial services have been a good idea for a long time.
“It’s always helpful with people who are being released,” Daniels said. “They’re people who don’t need monitoring. Some people can’t make their dentist appointments. Some people require more supervision. Maybe they need GPS monitoring to make sure they don’t get around where they’re not supposed to be or substance abuse. GPS may help with that. It’s not a new problem. We need it now to the extent before the constitutional amendment or the new rules.”
He said he agrees with 12th Judicial District Attorney John P. Sugg that more resources are needed for pretrial services and monitoring.
Sugg said he has two pretrial services officers for both Otero and Lincoln counties.
“They have caseloads that are not manageable,” he said. “We can keep releasing people to pretrial services but the idea that funding may come in doesn’t help us today. We have this mandate to send everybody to pretrial services but we don’t have the resources to do it. The practical reality is we have about 400 plus people with two people supervising them in both counties. They can’t do that. It’s not possible to do an adequate job of supervision.”
Sugg said he believes we’re sending people out onto the streets with little or no supervision.
“He’s (Daniels) about the bail reform that’s been going on since the 60s in the District of Columbia and the bail act reform in 1984 which is the federal enactment,” he said. “I agree there’s been a lot of case law federally but our state district and court of appeals are not following federal case law. There’s no published opinions on our new court rules. This idea that everybody needs to adjust, we need opinions so we know what we supposed to be adjusting to.”
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