Public defender reacts to DA Torrez’s proposal to amend pretrial detention process

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In 2017, a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution aimed to keep dangerous criminals off the streets.

So why should voters consider this, again?

“The simple answer is we didn’t get it right the first time,” Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez said in in a news conference Tuesday.

Torrez now wants voters to consider another amendment to the state’s pretrial detention process. It would include flight risk as a factor on top of proving an offender’s danger to the public if released.

Most of all, Torrez wants to bring “rebuttable presumption” back into the process, which would allow judges to keep a defendant behind bars based on the seriousness of the charge — charges like first-degree murder and others that could lead to life imprisonment convictions.

“This is intended and focused exclusively on the most violent and dangerous offenders in our community,” Torrez said.

But Jonathan Ibarra, a public defender and member of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said the current amendment is fine.

“To go throwing up into the air just because they don’t like how it’s going, is not reasonable,” Ibarra said.

Ibarra pointed out, Torrez’s proposal would put the burden of proving a defendant is not dangerous, on defense attorneys.

“Now what they want, is to make it even easier to keep all of these people in custody, even though we know traditionally, a significant percentage of them will never be convicted of anything and never should have been because they’re innocent,” Ibarra said.

Since 2017, it has been up to prosecutors to convince a judge how dangerous an offender is with “clear and convincing evidence.”

“The burden is on the district attorney to do that, but that’s their job,” said Steven Allen, policy director for the ACLU of New Mexico.