SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Supreme Court has reaffirmed a district court’s decision to release a man accused of numerous Albuquerque burglaries. The case was argued Friday morning by a prosecutor from the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office and a lawyer from the New Mexico Law Office of the Public Defender in front of the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Supreme Court Justices were tasked with reviewing a decision made by a district court judge, who refused to jail a burglary suspect facing charges in Bernalillo County District Court. Jesse Mascareño-Haidle has confessed to dozens of home break-ins and could be tied to as many as 80 cases. Today, he’s facing charges in three accused burglary incidents.
After his first arrest, Bernalillo County prosecutors sought to keep Mascareno-Haidle in jail through an expected trial. However, a Bernalillo County district court judge opted to release him. Prosecutors appealed that decision, but in early April, district court Judge Courtney Weeks denied the appeal.
Court filings show Judge Weeks indicated that while Mascareño-Haidle is considered “dangerous,” prosecutors failed to provide clear and convincing evidence that no conditions of release would reasonably protect the safety of the community until Mascareño-Haidle’s expected trial. In mid-April, a district court judge further loosened Mascareño-Haidle’s conditions of release.
At issue in the Supreme Court review is what prosecutors need to argue to the court in order to clearly convince a judge that a criminal suspect should be held in jail through an expected trial. Chief Deputy District Attorney James Grayson of the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office argued in part the state needs to “clarify” if and how prosecutors should be forced to prove two separate standards: if a suspect is “dangerous” and if no conditions of release are available that can protect the community.
“The state’s argument is that the same evidence can be used to establish both dangerousness and the fact condition of release can’t protect the community,” Grayson said during Friday’s hearing.
An attorney for the New Mexico Law Office of the Public Defender, Noah Gelb argued in part that prosecutors are trying to suggest that a judge be able “to look at the evidence of dangerousness” as the sole factor in proving dangerousness, and if conditions of release will protect the community.
In a ruling delivered Friday afternoon, Chief Justice Michael Vigil reaffirmed the district court’s decision. Vigil said prosecutors successfully proved Mascareño-Haidle is “dangerous” according to the court’s standard, but failed to prove that no conditions of release would protect the community.
“As to prong two, the state failed to argue or prove the second condition required, that no conditions of release will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community,” said Chief Justice Michael Vigil. “For that reason, the court will affirm the decision below and court will write an opinion explaining our reasoning as to the requirements and how the state failed to argue or prove this second requirement.”
Reacting to the decision Friday, the New Mexico Law Office of the Public Defender said the “system we have is internationally flexible so that we balance public safe risks against the serious harm done by incarcerating innocent or non-dangerous New Mexicans based on unproved accusations.” Gelb stated, “Under the state and federal constitution, Jesse is presumed innocent. He hasn’t gone to trial yet. This case shows that judges can make decision that protect the community and safeguard individual liberty.”
In response to the decision, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez said he would “renew his call for the New Mexico Legislature” to make changes to the state’s pre-trial detention system “in order to fix an obviously broken system that continues to place the community at unnecessary risk.” Torrez expressed disappointment with the decision in an interview with KRQE News 13.
“The larger issue is that when New Mexicans were asked to vote for (bail reform,) they were told explicitly on the ballot when they voted, ‘do you want to give judges the ability to detain violent dangerous individuals?’ Torrez said. “That’s what they voted for, that’s not what they’re getting.”