October 2, 2016

House passes expansion of three strikes law

The House voted overwhelmingly to expand the state’s three strikes law to include more crimes to count towards the penalty that would result in life in prison after nearly three hours of debate.

The House debating a three strikes law expansion in the 2016 special session

Matthew Reichbach

The House debating a three strikes law expansion in the 2016 special session

Three criminal convictions on certain crime would result in a life sentence if this bill becomes law. The bill, which passed the House 49-14, would need to pass the Senate in identical form to make it to the governor’s desk.

The Senate did not pass a similar bill during the regular session.

The House amended the bill to remove some crimes that were included in the bill as originally introduced. House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe thanked the bill’s sponsor, Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, for accepting the amendment.

Egolf noted the amendment hoped to capture only those who committed violent crimes, with great bodily harm or crimes committed with a violent weapon. It removed some offenses, such as second-degree kidnapping and involuntary manslaughter.

Later, an emotional Pacheco spoke about his bill.

“I will never apologize for trying to keep these predators off the streets as I did when I was a police officer,” he said.

Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, thanked Pacheco for bringing up the bill.

“I’m always impressed with passion,” he said. “Especially when it’s based on fact and conviction.”

Pacheco also said the current three strikes law was basically useless.

State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, has led the charge on those who oppose the bills to increase penalties for crimes pushed by the House. During debate, he said three strikes laws are not helpful in other states.

“The rest of the country has learned from all of the empirical data available to it and come up with better ideas,” the former prosecutor said.

Pacheco said that New Mexico’s three strikes law was useless because the crimes mentioned were only the most serious.

“To be quite honest, it’s a joke,” Pacheco said.

No one has been charged with a third strike under the current law, which was enacted in 1994. Pacheco said under the current bill, before the Egolf amendment which stripped some crimes, 59 people have committed three offenses that would be under this law since 2010.

So far, there is no count of how many people would have committed three crimes qualifying for the three strikes under the amended bill.

In arguing for his bill, Pacheco said this bill was necessary because criminals come to New Mexico because the crimes are so weak.

“We have these gangbangers and gang members coming from New Mexico from California and the East Coast,” he said, saying he could rattle off multiple examples.

Pacheco said he did not have any data on how many people who were prosecuted came from out of state.

Both Egolf and Pacheco admitted the bill passed by the House in the regular session had some unintended consequences, which this version would fix.

Pacheco said the amendment, “corrected my concern from the last time and the [District Attorneys’] concern that it was going to be arduous and wasn’t going to be workable.”

Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, supported the bill, but said the Legislature needed to do more to prevent crime.

“We are more intent and happier to send people to prison forever than we are to do something along the road so that they don’t get to a third strike’s law, so that we don’t need one,” Alcon said.