December 8, 2015

ABQ, BernCo officials outline grievances over court-ordered deadlines

The Second Judicial District Attorney and Albuquerque Police Department chief told members of the New Mexico Supreme Court Tuesday that a court order on time limits for trials needed to be changed.

iStock_000002715910_LargeThe comments came during a meeting on the case management order (CMO) from the Supreme Court to those in Bernalillo County.

Among those giving feedback on the CMO were Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and Chief Public Defender Jorge Alvarado.

The high court previously mandated the CMO amid concern that Bernalillo County wasn’t prosecuting felony cases fast enough as jails overcrowded. Among its changes are a mandate that arraignment comes 10 days after either an indictment, arrest or filing of criminal information of a case—whatever comes last.

Since the CMO went into effect in February, Brandenburg and Eden have brought their criticisms of some of its provisions to the media. After the fatal shooting of APD officer Daniel Webster, for instance, Brandenburg said the CMO’s new time limits on discovery prompted a judge to dismiss an earlier felony indictment against the man charged with shooting Webster.

Most recently, she faulted the order for the dismissal of a criminal case earlier this year involving Jacob Jaramillo, who last month killed three in a drunken driving accident.

The Supreme Court justices have pledged commitment to improving the order, though they can elect not to change it.

At the meeting, Brandenburg told Supreme Court justices that restrictions in the CMO interfere with her office’s ability to indict criminals.

“In 2014 we indicted over 5,000 cases,” Brandenburg said. “As we’re set today, we’re probably going to indict approximately 2,000 cases.”

This means more criminals are out on the street, she said, and also affects her office’s ability to catch people early in their criminal career when they’re most likely to turn their lives around.

But court officials emphasized that criminal cases must be resolved to meet a defendant’s constitutional rights to a speedy trial.

“We don’t want the timeline to be too short,” Chief Justice Barbara Vigil said at the meeting. “But we also saw a culture in this county that had cases wallowing for years. That is not justice. The CMO is what we believe is a reasonable period of time so justice is rendered.”

The CMO allows Brandenburg’s office to retry any case that a judge dismisses without prejudice. But Brandenburg said her office is short on attorneys and staff and doesn’t have the resources to retry every case.

“We are in desperate need of eight additional attorneys and eight paralegals to help us with the CMO,” Brandenburg said.

At one point, Justice Charles Daniels said the court would be glad to help appropriate resources if it could. But he argued that a lack of resources couldn’t be the only excuse for not complying with the CMO and again underscored that the order came as a result of long trials and overburdened jails in Bernalillo County.

“At some point we need to make the criminal justice system function,” Daniels said.

Another issue that came up was over providing witness information according to timelines established under the CMO. Eden spoke of how APD often interviews witnesses after an indictment is issued.”

“In complex criminal cases, we see witnesses come forward at a later time,” Eden said at the meeting. “We might not have all the witnesses submit their information, but we may have all their names.”

Deputy District Attorney Troy Davis said in big cases, it’s tough to submit all witness information by the time of arraignment.

“I think our concern is trying to contact up to 60 people within 10 days,” Davis said. “We don’t have the resources to do that.”

Parts of the CMO also call for scientific evidence used in a case to be submitted at least 120 days before trial. Both Brandenburg and Eden argued for additional time.

“Finding an expert witness is hard,” Brandenburg said. “Sometimes you may got through one or two experts before finding one you can use.”

Eden said that sometimes APD will find fingerprints that are “very conclusive” to proving a person was at a crime scene.

“Yet there is a demand on us to do additional DNA testing,” he said. “That’s where we run into conflicts. That’s where we run into difficulties.”

The meeting was the result of written recommendations officials sent to the Supreme Court about possible changes to the CMO.