NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – More than a year after New Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled against the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office in a case tied to pretrial detention, we now have a better picture as to why the justices made their decision. The case highlights one of the hottest debate topics in Albuquerque: what to do about the region’s crime.
In an opinion filed Thursday, the Court maintains that in order to hold an accused criminal before trial, the prosecutor must provide proof that letting them go on bail would be a danger to the community. The opinion, in part, explains why several district judges decided to release Jesse Mascareno-Haidle, a man who confessed to dozens of home break-ins and could be tied to more cases.
The Supreme Court opinion argues that Mascareno-Haidle was rightfully released on bail, rather than being jailed before facing trial. The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office had tried multiple times to keep Mascareno-Haidle behind bars, but judges involved denied jailing Mascareno-Haidle before trial due to a lack of evidence that Mascareno-Haidle would be a danger to the community, according to the Supreme Court.
Deciding exactly whom to jail before trial has been the subject of intense debate in Bernalillo County. In this Supreme Court case, the justices were tasked with clarifying what evidence the state needs to show to put people behind bars before they’re proven guilty in court.
“The State requests that it be allowed to present less, not more, information to a judge attempting to predict what a person’s future behavior will be,” the Supreme Court opinion by Justice Michael E. Vigil says. “We decline the State’s request.”
In essence, the Supreme Court’s opinion clarifies that in order to detain someone before they go to trial, a prosecutor must provide “clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community,” as stated in the state’s Constitution. And the opinion clarifies that the decision to hold someone “cannot be made to turn on any single factor, be it the nature and circumstances of the charged offense(s) or otherwise.”
The New Mexico Courts put it this way in a press release: “Evidence about the ‘nature and circumstances’ of a charged offense is not enough by itself to prove that a defendant should be jailed while awaiting trial.” And some of the lawyers who defend accused criminals are happy about this.
“We are gratified that the Court found that current rules already appropriately deal with this type of case, and that the District Attorney’s arguments were contrary to the NM Constitution. It is also clear from this decision that at least parts of his numerous proposals to create rebuttable presumptions for pretrial detention are likewise unconstitutional” says Jonathan Ibarra, the assistant public defender at the Law Offices of the Public Defender.
But for some at the District Attorney’s Office, who are usually on the other side of the courtroom, the opinion from the Supreme Court is a let down.
“While we respect the Court’s interpretation of the current law, we do not believe that New Mexico voters intended for defendants like Mascareno-Haidle to be released when they approved bail reform in 2016,” says Lauren Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office. “It is sadly ironic that this defendant picked up new felony charges while this case was pending an appeal. Unfortunately, while that lesson seemed to be lost on the Supreme Court, we hope it demonstrates the need for meaningful reform in the upcoming legislative session.”
Lauren Rodriguez later said in an email, “Today’s ruling only confirms what has already been clear to the public for some time – New Mexico’s broken revolving door system must be addressed by the Legislature. While we respect the Court’s interpretation of the current law, we do not believe that New Mexico voters intended for defendants like Mascareno Haidle to be released when they approved bail reform in 2016. It is sadly ironic that this defendant picked up new felony charges while this case was pending an appeal. Unfortunately, while that lesson seemed to be lost on the Supreme Court, we hope it demonstrates the need for meaningful reform in the upcoming legislative session.”