New Mexico – The New Mexico Supreme Court is testing a pilot program in the 8th judicial district to help with how long it takes for a criminal case to go to trial. The program went live in Taos, Colfax and Union Counites on September 12th, 2022. The program is modelled after Bernalillo County, which has a similar system, and the deadlines that at set for criminal proceedings.
On average in the state of New Mexico, criminal proceedings can take place anywhere from 18 to 24 months from the time of arraignment. This pilot program wants to cut that in half, taking 9 months to roughly 15 months.
The deadlines make it so that both the defense and the prosecution have to have a case be presented in the court and go to trial within the allotted time frame based on the track the cases fall on. The tracks that a case can carry fall on tier-based order of track one, two and three: one being simple case, two being intermediate complexity, and three being the most complex, and in turn taking the largest among of time.
From the point of arrest, an arraignment has to be filed within 15 days of the arrest, beginning the ball to roll. That feeds into the status hearing which must be held in 30 days of the arraignment. After that, the case will receive the designation of track one, two or three.
If the case is give a track one status, a trial must be held within 210 days of the arraignment unless a plea deal is filed 10 days before the trial date. For status two cases, a trial must be held within 300 days; status three cases must be within 455 days. Now the rules for extensions in a case have changed as well. Extensions can be given but must not exceed 30 days from track one cases, 60 days for track two cases and 90 days for track three cases.
Both prosecution and defense counsel in the 8th judicial district are happy with the expedited timeline for cases.
“We’re excited in one way, because we do want to have some timely dispositions and accountability for our victims and the victims’ families and the community as a whole,” said 8th judicial district attorney Marcus Montoya.
“It’s much more organized in terms of even smaller deadlines that have to be met by the parties,” said Aleks Kostich with the Law office of the Public Defender in the 8th District.
However, it means an added pressure of building a case on the prosecution side this and having to prioritize who to charge, and even then, some things are out of their control.
“You’ve got enough evidence to charge them ethically and with good faith and survive a grand jury indictment and or a preliminary examination. And so, what if that enforcement agency do not respond to calls or investigate?”, said Montoya.
And their is another issue that affects prosecutors and defense attorneys – a lack of staff.
“Unfortunately, though, the criminal justice system, I think, with exceptions, is generally understaffed, right, we’re all trying to find the ability to hire, recruit and retain employees,” said Montoya.
“We’re operating from a deficit almost immediate,” said Kostich.