NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The New Mexico Supreme Court just approved changes to the rules that help determine whether a suspected felon can be held in jail while awaiting trial. Prosecutors will now have more opportunities to try and keep suspected criminals behind bars.
“The rule changes are meant to improve public safety and we think that’s the direction they go,” said Arthur Pepin, Director for the Administrative Office of the Courts for the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Pepin explained how new rule changes approved by the New Mexico Supreme Court can impact how suspected felons are handled before trial.
“Judges aren’t in a position to say, ‘Well I think you’re a bad guy,'” Pepin said. “But they are in a position to see your criminal history, and the circumstances of the current case, and say, ‘The DA hasn’t even had a chance to look at this.’ And so maybe we don’t want to go as fast as normally we would.”
The rule change will allow magistrate and metropolitan court judges to delay by 24 hours the initial pretrial release of suspected felons. The idea is to provide more time for prosecutors to decide whether they’ll file a motion to keep a suspect in jail pending trial.
Pepin said the new rule changes do not expand the overall time a prosecutor has to file a motion for pretrial detention, however, “It does allow them to file a motion while the person hasn’t yet been released,” he said.
Pepin said this will be especially beneficial in rural communities, where prosecutors can’t always show up in court during a first appearance. “The Fifth District in southeastern New Mexico – there’s three counties, there are hundreds of square miles,” explained Pepin.
“This happens quickly,” he explained. “You get arrested on a Saturday, the judge is gonna have a hearing on Monday to decide what conditions to release you on.”
The rule will also allow district judges to schedule detention hearings for suspected felons if a prosecutor hasn’t yet filed a motion for detention.
New rules will also make clear that a judge can rely on a “broad range of evidence,” during pretrial detention hearings.
“It doesn’t have to be someone in court who raises their right hand and swears that they saw this happen,” said Pepin. Although, he did point out that prosecutors still have a high burden of proof to show a suspect poses a danger to the community.
Still, the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Bernalillo County argues too many pretrial detention motions are denied in the end. “While in some instances it may be beneficial, for the larger scale it is something that needs to be reevaluated,” said Brandale Mills Cox, Communications Director for the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
A 24-hour delay by a judge will not extend the overall time a suspect can be kept in jail before setting conditions of release. The rule changes will take effect for cases pending or filed on or after November 23, 2020.
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