Gun control debate restarts in NM Legislature

Legislators are pressing ahead with a slate of gun control bills that would require background checks for virtually all firearm sales and add to the categories of offenders who would be prohibited from possessing a gun at all. Proponents argue these bills will close loopholes and help keep guns out of the hands of those who have committed violent crimes or are in crisis. But critics argue the laws will prove unenforceable, ineffective and will undermine the right to bear arms.

The measures come with a sense of urgency after mass shootings around the country and in New Mexico have spurred calls for tighter limits on obtaining firearms.

But even with Democrats holding a 46-24 majority in the House, any major gun control measures will face opposition as well as wary moderates. In turn, Democrats are focusing on a few sets of policies they argue are effective enough to win support for finally passing a bill after years of watching legislation be watered down or blocked altogether. Instead of calling for bans on so-called bump stocks or high-capacity magazines, lawmakers so far are focusing on expanding background checks and tightening limits on the rights of domestic violence offenders to possess guns.

House panel rejects bill to bring back death penalty

When Juan Melendez was on Florida’s death row for a murder conviction, his mother built an altar with a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe surrounded by roses. She said five rosaries a day, asking for a miracle to exonerate him and bring him home safely. She also wrote Melendez a letter saying, “Have faith, put your trust in God and that miracle will happen. One day, you will be free.” It took 17 years, but the miracle happened.

Overloaded public defender’s office was years in the making

Decades worth of warnings about the danger of underfunding public defenders finally came to a climax last month, when a district court judge held Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur in contempt of court after Baur, the agency head, said he could not ethically take a handful of cases in rural New Mexico. New Mexico’s continued weak budget suggests that the state’s Law Offices of the Public Defender is unlikely to receive more resources any time soon. But according to leading criminal defense attorneys, public defenders were never a priority in the state budget even during better economic times. The recent flashpoint was when Baur showed up to the 5th Judicial District Court in Lovington to represent Michelle Sosa. Sosa was on probation for a previous aggravated battery conviction and tested positive for methamphetamines.

Chief public defender held in contempt after turning down cases, says office can’t afford it

Years of budget cuts to the state’s Offices of the Public Defender came to a head this week in a rural town in southeast New Mexico. A judge found New Mexico’s lead public defender in contempt of court earlier this week after his office failed to appear in five cases in a Lovington district court. District Court Judge Gary Clingman found Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur in contempt on Monday and issued a $5,000 fine after Baur failed to represent clients in five different criminal cases. Related: Citing ‘resistance’ top Public Defender resigns

The notices of non-appearance, Baur said, stem from a strained public defender’s office. “We really cannot effectively represent people,” Baur told NM Political Report.