A national conversation about criminal justice reform and employing convicted criminals is making its way back to New Mexico. After an unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation that would prohibit asking applicants about past criminal convictions, Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, brought the discussion to an interim legislative committee on Tuesday. O’Neill and Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, fielded questions and concerns from the committee. Rep. Rick Little, R-Chaparral, said he was concerned about the hiring of teachers and faculty who might be working with children. He cited the recent Albuquerque Public School scandal involving a former deputy superintendent.
An official from New Mexico’s Administrative Office of the Courts and a state senator announced on Monday a proposed amendment to the New Mexico Constitution that would change the bail process in New Mexico. The proposed change, announced at a press conference, would allow judges more discretion to deny bail in criminal pretrial proceedings for those who are considered flight risks or are considered too dangerous to the public. At the press conference Administrative Office of the Courts director Artie Pepin told reporters that the New Mexico Supreme Court has endorsed the idea of a constitutional amendment to change the way judges can issue or deny bail in initial court proceedings. He said the committee has not come up with any specific language, but that some of the other “not very useful” language will probably be taken out. New Mexico State Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said that he plans to introduce a Senate Joint Resolution that, if approved by both the Senate and House, would let New Mexico voters decide on the amendment.
The New Mexico Attorney General introduced a team that will review the state’s criminal justice system, particularly violent crimes, and identify solutions for problems they find. The group, called the Multidisciplinary Violent Crime Review Team, was revealed on Wednesday in Albuquerque and is made up of state and local leaders. Balderas warned the team and members of the public, “this is not going to be an easy process.”
The idea to create the group came after Rio Rancho police officer Gregg Benner was fatally shot earlier this year by a repeat offender. The first phase will include a look into this case. Balderas called the shooting “a breaking point for the general public.”
Julie Benner added that she wants to see changes to the criminal justice system in the state.
A Las Cruces man behind bars for marijuana possession is among the 46 people whose prison sentences President Obama commuted today. In 2004, John M. Wyatt was convicted with possessing and attempting to distribute more than 220 pounds of marijuana in southern Illinois. His sentence netted him nearly 22 years in prison plus an extra eight years on supervised release. Wyatt, 54, is serving his sentence at a low security Federal Correctional Institution in La Tuna, Texas. He was set to be released in November 2021 until Obama’s commute.
The aftermath of a heinous crime that saw a career criminal kill a Rio Rancho police officer is sparking talk of tougher crime laws. Next week, state lawmakers in the interim Courts, Corrections & Justice Committee will hear testimony on a bill to add crimes to New Mexico’s existing “three strikes” law, which assigns mandatory life in prison sentences to convicts of three violent crimes. Yet the local legislative doubling down on “tough on crime” laws—two Republican state representatives are proposing changes that would tighten New Mexico’s three strikes law—comes at a time with strong national momentum in the opposite direction. And it’s Republicans with national ambitions that, in many cases, have been making headlines for this. “Former [Texas] Gov. Rick Perry is going around the country bragging that he closed three prisons,” said state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, who supports criminal justice reform.
Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed two pieces of legislation but signed 24 more on Tuesday as the deadline to make a decision nears. Martinez vetoed legislation that would reduce time on probation for those with good behavior. The legislation passed both chambers unanimously. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, told New Mexico Political Report last week he hoped Martinez would sign the legislation, part of the criminal justice reform slate. “The point is to alleviate the stress of the probation department,” Maestas said at the time.
A week and a half after the end of the 2015 Legislative Session in New Mexico, two lawmakers are waiting to see the fate of two bipartisan bills aimed at reforming criminal justice laws. The bills passed the legislature and are now awaiting action from Gov. Susana Martinez. Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, and Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, each sponsored bills endorsed by the interim Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee. The two lawmakers also co-chaired the committee. Torraco sponsored SB 358, which would allow inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses to enter into a halfway house during the last year of incarceration.
Wrapping up its first full year, the Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee has approved legislation to be introduced for the 2015 session. The legislative subcommittee made up of state senators and representatives was put together with the intention of exploring changes to New Mexico’s criminal codes. This year, there are eight proposed bills that are listed as endorsed by the committee. The group is co-chaired by Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, and Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque. Torraco said the committee only endorsed legislation that every member agreed with.