New bill aims to bring more accountability to court cases involving police

Local News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – One state lawmaker said it is a conflict of interest when district attorneys are handed cases involving cops. Now, she is trying to pass legislation to fix that problem. District attorneys said when they have conflicts of interest, they often refer their cases to a district attorney in another district for review or hand it over to the Attorney General’s Office. Now, this new bill would require them to do.

After weeks of civil unrest nationwide including here in New Mexico, one state senator is making sure those voices don’t go unheard. “Now is the moment to get something done,” Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez said. “The people have spoken and we have to do it.”

Next week, Sedillo Lopez is introducing legislation she said would bring transparency and accountability to the criminal justice system. She said she believes that in cases where police actions result in grave bodily harm or death, the local district attorney’s office should not be the only set of eyes reviewing the case. “I believe there is inherently a conflict of interest with the local DA because they work so closely with the police officers.”

Her new bill would require concurrent jurisdiction for the district attorneys and the Attorney General’s Office, meaning they would work together on cases from start to finish. “If I am the DA, and my brother-in-law is a cop and I wanted to protect him, I couldn’t do that if the AG is right by my side,” Sedillo Lopez said. “Now if I am the AG, and my brother-in-law is a cop and there was a case involving him, I couldn’t do that with the local DA at my side. It provides two eyes.”

The New Mexico Administrative Office of District Attorneys said it reviewed the bill Friday. “I think anytime we want to give more process to something, it is good,” NMDAA President Dianna Luce said. “Certainly having someone else to have the ability to assist is positive.”

Sedillo Lopez introduced a similar bill in January, but it never made it to the governor’s call. She said she is hopeful given current events that there will be more support this time around, although the primary focus of this special session is the budget shortfall brought on by the pandemic. “I think if we are going to spend all the money and time to go to Santa Fe and work on the budget, this is at least as important as the budget,” Sedillo Lopez said.

The bill would also require district attorneys to report these police cases to the Governor’s Office and AG’s Office within 24 hours. Attorney General Hector Balderas said he is glad the legislature is willing to consider reforms, and he would prosecute these cases just like they already do with public corruption cases. Balderas said he has been working with lawmakers to find funding for his office to take on these cases.

The Governor’s Office said they are open to proposals that address excessive force in policing, and the governor expects broader reform proposals to be discussed between now and the regular 60-day session.

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