Changes in store for New Mexico's busiest judicial district

Dec 5, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Supreme Court has amended an order that governs the handling of criminal cases in the state's busiest judicial district amid rising crime and concerns among prosecutors and public defenders. The court made the announcement Tuesday, saying the changes were approved as part of an order issued Monday after it considered proposals from the Bernalillo County district attorney's office, the district court in Albuquerque, public defenders and law enforcement. The changes include adjustments to deadlines for disclosing evidence and scheduling pretrial witness interviews. "The amended case management order provides for the timely resolution of criminal cases in a fair and just manner," said Artie Pepin, head of the Administrative Office of the Courts, noting that the parties had reached consensus on most of the changes after several months of meetings. The changes take effect Jan. 15 and will apply to pending cases that have been assigned for prosecution. The case management order was initially implemented in 2015 to address a backlog in the 2nd Judicial District. The rules set deadlines for procedural steps leading to trial. District Attorney Raul Torrez, who inherited thousands of cases when he took over earlier this year, told a panel of state lawmakers in September that an uptick in crime, staff shortages and court rules were affecting how his office managed its caseload. He suggested that if solutions are found for New Mexico's busiest district, they could be used elsewhere in the state. Torrez said Tuesday the court's amendments do not represent the kind of comprehensive change he was hoping for. He also said no additional money has been appropriated to meet the compressed timelines associated with the order. "I will continue to advocate for additional resources — both for my office and our law enforcement partners — so that we can comply with these extraordinary obligations and meet the challenge of rising crime in this community," he said. Aside from the case management order, Torrez and other district attorneys have said rules for instituting bail reform have created challenges across the state. The Supreme Court is taking a second look at those rules after gathering comments from officials throughout the justice system. Two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has said New Mexico residents are appalled by the results of a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year to reform the bail system. She wants lawmakers to repeal and replace the reforms. As for case management in Bernalillo County, the amendments will allow for an extra five days for the initial disclosure of evidence when a defendant is in custody and five more days for prosecutors to arraign a defendant not in custody. More time also will be allotted for cases to go to trial upon a showing of good cause. That means a trial date can be extended by up to 60 days in the most complex cases. Previously, only 30-day extensions were allowed. Under the changes, the highest priority for scheduling a trial will be given to cases in which the defendant is detained while awaiting trial. The rules, in general, call for the simplest cases to go to trial within seven months and 15 months for the most complex cases.