ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Lawmakers are talking through some solutions to make New Mexico safer.
Republican and Democratic state legislators met Monday to discuss if harsher sentences would help fight our crime problem. One of the first topics they talked about was how they can learn from other states in the way they prosecute and sentence crimes, and how they differ from New Mexico.
“What we’ve learned is that you can lower cost and increase public safety at the same time because if you have a more efficient, effective criminal justice system, you can lower prison costs,” said Rep. Moe Maestas, (D) Albuquerque. “Because people who shouldn’t be there aren’t there, and you increase public safety because folks who should be there are there.”
The National Coalition of State Legislators, a group that gives state lawmakers resources and data about a variety of topics, spoke to state lawmakers. They talked about increasing fines and penalties for certain crimes like burglary or theft, and if it has an effect on habitual offenders.
Another hot topic was how other states use mandatory sentencing for serious crimes, compared to sentences from a judge, which is seen a lot in New Mexico. If a judge imposes a lighter sentence, it can cause public outcry.
“So it would be foolish to turn a blind eye or ignore some of the work they’ve done because we can take some of that and learn from it,” said Senator Sander Rue, (R) Albuquerque. “Not necessarily apply it in what we’re trying to do in New Mexico carte blanche, because every state and all the circumstances are different.”
There were no specifics, just a general discussion. All sides were gathering information to try and help the crime problem in New Mexico.
Legislators on the “Criminal Justice Reform Committee” also talked about how crimes are classified and possibly updating the 41-year-old classification of the criminal code.
“If we do it right and we prioritize the entire system, so every cop, every district attorney, and every judge knows what’s important to this community,” said Rep. Maestas. “And so we, as lawmakers, as representatives, we can do a criminal code that is proportionate, is consistent and that prioritizes violent criminals.”
The classification of the criminal code determines the crimes people can be convicted of in New Mexico and their fines, penalties and sentences. The code also lists which crimes are classified as a felony, misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor, and the severity of those crimes.
The subcommittee also talked about updating some statute of limitations for severe crimes. For example, upping the statute of limitations for second-degree murder from six years to a much greater time frame, like 30, would be something they would consider.
Another hot topic on re-classifying our criminal code is about habitual offenders, especially for felony crimes like assault or property crimes. There was talk about re-evaluating the sentencing for habitual offenders, but no specifics were given. So far, there are no specifics as to which laws might be re-classified in the criminal code.
In addition to lawmakers, participants included the ACLU and the Public Defender Department.