It is not a secret that crime is a pervasive problem in Valencia County.
When a defendant is released from custody after arrest, people often believe that somehow law enforcement has failed to protect the community and/or the district attorney has failed to successfully argue for a defendant’s incarceration prior to trial.
While we do not claim to be infallible, the truth of the matter is that the prosecution team is restricted by a 2016 change in the New Mexico law, which makes it much more difficult for prosecutors to argue to keep offenders in custody pending trial. This leaves law enforcement and community members who have been impacted by the defendant’s actions, frustrated, disappointed and often angry.
The law reads, “Bail may be denied by a court of record pending trial for a defendant charged with a felony if the prosecuting authority requests a hearing and proves by clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.”
The result of this law is that very few defendants are kept in custody pending trial. As prosecutors, we are bound to work within the confines of the law, which sometimes does not support our intended outcome.
The release of a defendant after arrest does not stop the prosecution. Pre-trial release decisions are only the beginning of the district attorney’s office pursuit of justice. Repeat offenders are released by the judge under a set of stringent conditions.
Similarly, the release of a defendant does not mean that law enforcement did not do a good job with the arrest, charging and investigation, nor does the defendant’s release pending trial reflect an animus or bias from the judge.
When recommending incarceration for a defendant prior to trial, the prosecution team initiates formal proceedings when clear and convincing evidence shows that no other release conditions can protect the safety of our community. The prosecution teams’ recommendations balanced with the defendant’s presumption of innocence.
Within this delicate balancing act, the judge and prosecutors make decisions which take into consideration the safety of the community coupled with the constitutional guidelines rooted in our criminal justice system.
It is a misconception that pretrial incarceration is the only deterrent to future criminal misconduct. Valencia County has effective resources such as pre-trial services and in some instances law enforcement to monitor defendants who have been released pending trial but it is the responsibility of the defendant to comply with their conditions of release and to either abide by the law or not abide by the law.
Conditions of release do not give a defendant free reign within the community while awaiting trial. Should a defendant violate their conditions of release and/or commit a crime, the prosecutors receive notice and then request revocation of release pending trial.
Though it appears that the law unfairly benefits the defendant at the expense of the community this is not the case. Every member of the criminal justice system, from the judge to the defense, to prosecutors and law enforcement work diligently to honor the law and constitution regardless of any individual opinions regarding the status of the law.
Without hesitation I know that the best law enforcement officers I have ever worked with protect our community. We work collaboratively with law enforcement, who day in and day out strive to effectively investigate crime and protect the community.
All of us are equally bound to the laws we are bound to enforce. Every decision we make as integral participants within the criminal justice system reflects our understanding of the law and our underlying commitment to both federal and state constitutions.
Under the leadership of District Attorney Barbara Romo and with the commitment of my prosecution team, we endeavor every day to build upon what is already a great working relationship with each law enforcement agency in our district — Belen, Los Lunas, Bosque Farms and Isleta police departments, Valencia County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico State Police.
Their continued commitment to public safety and their tireless efforts dedicated to the protection of this community do not go unnoticed.
(Robyn Simms is the deputy district attorney for the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Valencia County.)