Bernalillo County DA: Most requests for preventative detention denied by judges

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*Correction issued below

When someone commits a crime in New Mexico, they could be held behind bars until trial. Prosecutors have to ask for that, and a judge has to approve it.

The state’s busiest District Attorney’s Office says a lot of those requests are being denied and possibly putting the public at risk.

“We’re going to move to detain an individual when we make our determination that this person poses a danger to the community,” says Adolfo Mendez, the Chief of Policy and Planning at the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.

Back in 2016, voters made it clear they wanted criminals off the streets of Albuquerque by voting for a proposed law.

“The opportunity to detain an individual who poses a threat to the community while they’re awaiting trial,” says Mendez.

He says prosecutors file a preventative detention motion based on a suspect’s criminal history, and the new crime they’re accused of.

They do it for about 30% of all classes, but says their efforts aren’t getting very far.

“Almost 60% of preventative detention motions are denied,” Mendez says.

When that happens, Mendez says the suspect often offends again.

“About a third of the time, when there’s a denial, we see that individual come back,” he says.

Back in January, they asked a District Court judge to detain Michael Munoz after he was hit with seven felonies ranging from assault to robbery.

Judge Alisa Hart released him.

Two months later, Munoz is charged with stealing a car and again, they filed a motion.

However, again, he was released.

“When an individual we’ve sought to detain and is released and we see them again, that weighs heavily as to our decision to detain them again,” says Mendez.

A spokesperson at District court gave us conflicting data.

Their records suggest the state files a preventative detention motion for less than 25% of cases of the defendants who are identified as a threat to public safety.

The court also claims judges grant more than 70% of the motions.

The courts say he state has to present clear and convincing evidence for someone to be detained.

The DA’s Office says it’s training prosecutors on the best way to present their findings.

The spokesperson for District Court also says most of the time, the DA’s office files a preventative detention motion for people who have little to no risk to public safety.

Read the full statement from District Court spokesperson, Sidney Hill, below:

The court uses a public safety assessment (PSA) tool, which assists judges in evaluating the extent to which a criminal defendant represents a public safety risk if released before trial. This public safety assessment represents an important tool for the judges, because the objective of this tool is to ensure those defendants who represent the greatest threat to public safety are identified, at which point the District Attorney can assess whether to file a motion for preventive detention on that defendant.

It is important to note that a judge cannot detain a defendant without a motion from the District Attorney. In those instances in which the District Attorney demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant represents a risk to public safety, his motions are granted; when he fails to do this, his motions are not granted. This requirement is contained in our state constitution and our state statutes, and unless the District Attorney meets this constitutional requirement, a judge cannot grant his motion.

The Court tracks data relating to the District Attorney’s motions for preventive detention. The Court’s data reveals that the District Attorney files preventive detention motions on fewer than 25% of the defendants who are identified by the PSA as the greatest threat to public safety. At the same time, he files 75% of his motions for preventive detention against individuals who have been assessed to represent lesser risk to public safety (and in some cases against defendants who are assessed to represent little to no risk to public safety). The data also shows that judges grant more than 70% of the preventive detention motions for individuals who fall in the high-risk category.

CORRECTION: A previous edition of this story stated the state files motions for preventatitve detention on 25% of all cases. The story has been corrected to reflect the accurate information.

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