ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – The state’s “three strikes” law is weak and doesn’t do enough to take violent criminals off the streets, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said.
While promoting a new law that expands the state’s Amber Alerts to cellphones, the Republican said this week she’d like to see a tougher three strikes law in New Mexico and hopes lawmakers examine it next session. Martinez said New Mexico’s three strikes law is so narrow that no inmate is currently serving a life sentence under it.
“I’d like to see a three strikes law in New Mexico that is workable,” Martinez said. “We have one. But as a prosecutor for 25 years, I was never able to prosecute anyone who had committed three different violent crimes” under the law’s set time table.
Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, said he’ll be introducing legislation to revamp the law and add more violent crimes. But Pacheco says he doesn’t want any reforms to add “unintended consequences” for the state.
“It’s not my intention to lock everyone up and throw away the key,” said Pacheco, a retired police officer. “But violent predators … they need to be serving fuller terms and they need to be locked away when they’ve committed very violent acts.”
But Pacheco said the reworking of the state’s three strikes law should be part of a larger effort to reform New Mexico criminal code and that may involve changing sentences that are too stiff.
The push for a tougher three strikes law in New Mexico comes after Andrew Romero, 28, fatally shot Rio Rancho police officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner during a routine traffic stop in May.
Romero was a repeat offender who critics say slipped through the justice system before his encounter with Benner, according to court records.
Critics say the state’s criminal justice system failed to keep Romero in prison and the shooting has generated calls for reform.
Still, the movement to strengthen New Mexico’s three strikes law comes as other states are considering reducing three strikes measures due to prison overcrowding.
In California, for example, voters also modified criminal laws through two propositions to reduce the scope of that state’s three-strike law and change certain felonies to misdemeanors. California has been under a court order to reduce prison overcrowding and Gov. Jerry Brown led the charge to place thousands of lower-level offenders in county jails under a realignment program.