ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s court system was already struggling with a backlog of cases waiting for trial but the pandemic and the city’s surge in violent crime is now adding to that caseload. Now, the courts and District Attorney’s Office are gearing up for a busy 2022.
Video and witnesses made a clear case against the man who shot and killed UNM baseball player, Jackson Weller, in May 2019. However, the case didn’t go to trial until last month — two and a half years after the arrest of Darian Bashir. It’s evident that Bernalillo County‘s District Court is playing catch up. There was already a backlog of cases waiting for trial but the pandemic along with Albuquerque’s surge in violent crime and murders is just adding to the caseload.
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The court said it’s “working to increase jury trials” each week in the New Year. Cases involving suspects behind bars — accused of the most serious violent crimes, like murder — will be prioritized.
“Not unlike the healthcare system, we end up triaging. So we have to focus on the most serious, the most dangerous, the most violent things first,” District Attorney Raúl Torrez shared in KRQE’s New Mexico News podcast.
He explained the toll the high volume of homicide cases is taking on his already under-staffed team of prosecutors. “Homicide prosecutions are very labor-intensive. They take a lot of work, they take a lot of follow-up investigation and they take a lot of experience to handle correctly,” Torrez said.
He said the experienced prosecutors in his office are overwhelmed, dealing with more than 40 cases at a time. “We have so much violent crime and homicide work to get through that we have no choice but to assign some of those cases to good prosecutors but prosecutors who are still learning their way,” Torrez said.
On top of that, the homicide caseload continues to grow. In 2021, the City of Albuquerque shattered its previous homicide record. Albuquerque Police Department Spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos, said the department investigated 108 homicides this year and solved 40 of those. While it’d be ideal to get those cases to trial quickly, Gallegos explained the homicide trials happening now date back to 2019.
District Court said it’s also possible settlement conferences between prosecutors and defense attorneys will become mandatory to facilitate plea deals in an effort to avoid a potentially time-consuming trial.