SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Should criminal suspects and their attorneys have access to victims’ and witnesses’ entire social security number and date of birth? That question is one the New Mexico Supreme Court is now facing after a recent effort by the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office to redact most of that sensitive information.
Some defense attorneys argue the information is public record and used to research cases. Meanwhile, some victims and victim advocates argue the sensitive information should not be provided to criminal suspects who could potentially use it in harmful ways.
The argument first emerged in late February 2020, after the New Mexico Law Office of the Public Defender received copies of police reports tied to a case against suspects they’re representing. District Attorney Raul Torrez’s Office provided police reports featuring partially redacted social security numbers and dates of birth for both victims and witnesses in the case.
According to court documents, in two separate cases, 2nd Judicial District Court Judge Jacqueline Flores and Judge Cindy Leos ordered the DA’s office to provide the full date of birth and social security number to the defense. Torrez’s office argues the rulings “unnecessarily expose victims and witnesses to identity theft and possible intimidation.”
A managing attorney overseeing the felony division of the New Mexico Law Office of the Public Defender, Erik Tranberg was party to one of the cases where redacted information was provided. He fought the issue through a court motion after only being provided the year of birth and the last four digits of victims’ and witnesses’ social security numbers.
“Why is the state keeping that information from us when we ‘ve always gotten it before?” Tranberg said. “The rules require them to disclose the information to us.”
The Law Office of the Public Defender says it uses victims’ and witnesses’ information, in part, to determine any potential conflicts of interest. Albuquerque’s District Defender for the NM LOPD, Jennifer Barela wrote a brief submitted to the state Supreme Court, arguing against redacting the information.
“If we’ve represented a witness or an alleged victim in a case previously, we cannot represent the defendant in that case,” Barela said. “There could be potential information that we have, regarding that witnesses that we shouldn’t be defending the defendant on.”
Crime victim advocates worry about what suspects can do with victims’ and witnesses’ information. Mary Ellen Garcia is the Grants Bureau Chief for the New Mexico Crime Reparation Commission, which supports the redactions.
“Why and how should that offender who robbed you at gunpoint, who violated you also now have access to your home address, your date of birth and your social security number?” Garcia said. “We should be protecting personally-identifying information.”
KRQE News 13 spoke to a woman over the phone who was a victim of a 2017 armed robbery and kidnapping. The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, says she came face-to-face with the suspect in her case while she was at work.
“It’s just the violation of my life matters,” the victim said. “I think enough is not done to protect the victims or anybody.” The New Mexico Supreme Court hasn’t set a timeline on when it will respond to the case.
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