February 16, 2023

Senate committee tables governor-backed bill altering pretrial detention system

The Santa Fe New Mexican

The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee tabled a bill Wednesday that sought to keep defendants charged with certain violent crimes, including first-degree murder, behind bars without bond while they await trial.

The committee voted 4-3 to table Senate Bill 123 amid concerns it is unconstitutional. The action likely means the measure won’t move forward during the session.

A fiscal impact report on the bill stated “litigation regarding its constitutionality should be expected” if it were enacted as proposed.

The report also estimated the measure could cost the state up to $15.3 million a year.

The measure, sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez and Rep. Meredith Dixon and backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, would establish a presumption that no conditions of release would protect the community from defendants charged with violent crimes such as first-degree murder, first-degree child abuse, sexual exploitation of a child and child trafficking.

While New Mexico’s current pretrial detention system requires prosecutors to provide evidence proving to a state district judge a defendant poses too great a danger to be released on any conditions, the bill states “it shall be presumed” prosecutors have satisfied their burden of proof through probable cause to charge the person with one of several high-level felony counts.

The defendant would have an opportunity to rebut the presumption under SB 123..

Second Judicial District Attorney Sam Bregman urged the committee to pass the bill and let the state Supreme Court render an opinion if it was challenged.

“Let’s try and get this to the finish line, and if it’s unconstitutional, they’ll let us know,” he said.

Democratic Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Bill Tallman of Albuquerque and Brenda McKenna of Corrales voted in favor of tabling the bill, while Sen. Moe Maestas, an Albuquerque Democrat, joined Republican Sens. Gregg Schmedes of Tijeras and David Gallegos of Eunice in voting against it.