The New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (NMCDLA) mobilizes criminal defense professionals throughout the state to effectively represent their individual clients and to partner with diverse coalitions advocating for systemic change. A tightly-knit organization of over 600 criminal defense attorneys, social workers, paralegals, investigators, and other team members, NMCDLA addresses injustices in the courtroom and throughout the criminal justice system as a whole. Through organizing community collaboration on criminal justice reform, overseeing policy work that safeguards constitutional rights, and presenting educational programs that keep its members informed, NMCDLA champions those who stand alone against the forces of government.
By way of an engaged email listserv, comprehensive continuing legal education programs, publications, and other communications, NMCDLA provides a platform for its members to exchange experiences, litigation resources, and knowledge on all topics relating to criminal defense work. In conjunction with a robust network of members, these tools equip defenders and sustain and strengthen them as they speak out on behalf of their clients. This work of representing the accused and working with their families places NMCDLA members in a unique position to share ideas and collaborate with others to improve the criminal justice system. NMCDLA uses the collective voice of the criminal defense bar to bring justice to individuals and to the community at large.
What do the Santa Fe prison riot, the NM Public Defender Department and a dusty box of documents all have in common? Each was instrumental in the creation of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
In 1973, the New Mexico Legislature enacted the New Mexico Public Defender Act, opening the doors of the newly created state Public Defender Department. By 1974, the ranks of criminal defense practitioners were swelling with veterans of the civil rights, anti-war and land grant movements who brought with them ideological fervor, a new level of commitment to confronting injustice and experience with organizing in solidarity and support.
At that time, the Criminal Law Section of the State Bar was struggling to serve both defenders and prosecutors. A small group of criminal defense lawyers realized that they needed an organization dedicated solely to the interests of the criminal defense bar. By the end of 1975, the organization hosted more than 60 dues-paying defense attorneys and had elected Ted Lauer as President, who formalized NMCDLA by obtaining 501(c)(3) status and creating a set of articles and by-laws.
State Penitentiary Riots
Because the association was carried by volunteers who were also full-time lawyers, the activities under the organization languished until the prison riots of 1980. Faced with a crisis in criminal defense, the NMCDLA reached out to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Some of the most prominent names in criminal defense from across the United States came to New Mexico and committed to the defense of inmates who were being prosecuted for capital offenses. This forged a link between the two organizations which has remained strong to this day.
After the successful efforts in the riot defense, a group of veterans of those wars vowed to revive the NMCDLA. Among others, Michael Stout, Dick Winterbottom, Mark Donatelli, Charlie Daniels, Nancy Hollander and Ray Twohig put in enormous time and effort in creating a renewed, reinvigorated entity. A dusty box containing the minutes, bylaws, tax records, newsletters and amicus briefs was located and brought up to date, kickstarting the organization as we now know it.
Today NMCDLA is an ever-growing organization offering support to criminal defense practitioners in a multitude of ways. Our members enjoy solidarity and guidance from individuals and other associations such as APD Forward and ACLU-NM.
Offering CLEs with significant discounts, free networking events, access to a sizeable online legal library and more, NMCDLA is committed to supporting the personal and professional development of its members. Click here to learn about our Strike Force, Legislative Action Committee, and other perks of joining New Mexico’s premier criminal defense support system.