In a crowded conference room in the mayor’s office last November, reporters and police officers gathered to see Republican lawmakers and Mayor Richard Berry discuss their plans for combating repeat criminal behavior.A visibly emotional Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, told the room of his intention to toughen New Mexico’s three strikes law. “This piece of legislation is very personal to me,” Pacheco said. Pacheco, a former law enforcement officer, told reporters that he was personally affected by a number of violent, high profile crimes committed earlier in the year. In May 2015, Rio Rancho Police officer Gregg Benner was shot and killed while on duty. In October, Albuquerque Police Officer Daniel Webster was shot and later died from his injuries.
An interim committee endorsed two pieces of legislation that would expand the list of crimes that would qualify for New Mexico’s three strikes law. After three convictions for eligible crimes, the person convicted would face a life sentence in prison. The more contentious of the two was the one brought forward by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, perhaps because it was the first time the committee had heard that particular legislation. Pacheco called his legislation “narrowly crafted” a number of times and said it was his intention to only target “super predators.” The additions would add more than ten felonies on the list of crimes eligible for the three strikes law, including involuntary manslaughter and first degree abuse of a child.
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.