December 12, 2017

Federal judge stops challenge against state rules on bail

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit by the bail industry, which was fighting rules established by the New Mexico Supreme Court on bail after voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016.

Judge Robert Junell dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice in an order filed Monday in federal district court. This means the case is effectively closed to another lawsuit. .

The suit alleged that the rules adopted by the courts violated the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Junell, a George W. Bush appointee, agreed with the state high court and granted their motion to dismiss the case.

Several legislators and one defendant who was released without bail, but with other restrictions, pending a trial, also signed onto the suit.

The judge found the bail industry and the legislators did not have standing to bring the suit.

“The commercial bail industry’s lawsuit sought to force our state to go back to a money-based bail system that released dangerous defendants who could buy a bail bond while jailing non-dangerous defendants simply for lack of money,” Administrative Office of the Courts Director Artie Pepin said in a statement Tuesday.

A. Blair Dunn, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, called the decision “well-written and not unexpected.”

“Unfortunately, Judge Junnell re-commits the same error that the N.M. Supreme Court made in failing to recognize that the citizens of New Mexico have long recognized a right to monetary bail to avoid restrictions on their Liberty pre-arraignment and pre-trial,” Dunn said in a statement Tuesday. “Such a notion is so well understood by New Mexicans that following the Brown decision the Legislature passed a constitutional amendment that was adopted by 87 percent of the voters.”

The judge ruled against the essential heart of the argument and said “there is no constitutionally-protected liberty interest in securing release from pretrial detention through a commercial bond.”

The bail industry blamed the bail reform constitutional amendment for an in increase in crime, something echoed by some legislators and Gov. Susana Martinez.

Senators Richard Martinez, D-Española, Bill Sharer, R-Farmington and Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, and Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, were among those who filed the suit. Two other representatives sought to have their name added later, but the judge found this was unnecessary as he already ruled the other legislators did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.