A new study looking at the impact of pretrial detention in New Mexico reinforces a previous legislative committee’s study and found that only a small percentage of defendants are charged with a second crime while awaiting trial.
The study, conducted by researchers from the Santa Fe Institute and the University of New Mexico’s Institute for Social Research, found that of the more than 15,000 defendants charged with a felony between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2021, only a small fraction were charged with a second felony.
“It is worth noting that very few of these defendants were charged with new high-level felonies,” the researchers wrote. “A total of 15 defendants in our dataset, or one out of every thousand, were charged with a new first-degree felony. A total of 141 were charged with a new second-degree felony, 70 of which were violent—about one-half of one percent.”
The latest study comes just months after the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee released similar findings. The legislative study was released just ahead of the 2022 legislative session where Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, who is also currently the Democratic nominee for attorney general, all pushed for laws to increase penalties and make it easier to detain defendants before trial.
The end of the session resulted in some concessions and the governor’s office seemed to shift away from its focus on a “rebuttable presumption” and called the final outcome a win. In terms of the legal system, the idea behind rebuttable presumption is that a judge assumes certain defendants are a danger to the community unless proven otherwise by the defendant’s attorney.
The most recent study on pretrial detention, like the previous study, says rebuttable presumptions flip the burden of proof to the defense instead of prosecutors, raising “profound constitutional questions.”
“In essence, they predict that a defendant will commit a serious crime if they are released between arrest and trial,” the researchers wrote.