Less than six months after being sworn in as Bernalillo County District Attorney, Raul Torres is blaming the New Mexico Supreme Court’s Case Management Order (CMO) for Albuquerque’s increasing crime rates, the higher percentage of cases going to trial and “gamesmanship” by defense attorneys.
(See June 20, 2017 Albuquerque Journal article, page A-1 “DA seeks changes to reduce dismissals; Speedy trial rules called too restrictive”)
The Case Management Order (CMO) was issued by the New Mexico Supreme Court in February 2015 and sets deadlines for criminal prosecutions to ensure speedier trials for defendants and to deal with an overcrowded jail system.
The CMO was necessitated by the fact that so many defendants were awaiting arraignments or trials and being held in the Bernalillo County Detention Center, or jail, for months, and at times years, to the point that the jail was becoming severely overcrowded exceeding its capacity of approximately 2,200 inmates.
The Bernalillo County Detentions Center for decades has been the subject of a Federal class action law suit for jail overcrowding.
Torrez had his District Attorney Office issue a report that outlines the so-called problems he perceives since the issuance of the Case Management Order in February 2015.
The main points of the DA’s report are that defense attorneys are “gaming” the court mandated discovery deadlines under the CMO to get cases dismissed by demanding evidence they are entitled to under the law and the Rules of Criminal Procedure and asking for trials instead of entering into plea agreements.
Torrez wants to end the practice under the CMO of dismissing cases because of inmate transportation issues and giving judges far more discretion when deadlines to turn over discovery are not met by the prosecution.
Motions to dismiss a case can be filed by defendants when the DA’s office does not turn over discovery in a timely manner to the defense as required by the CMO.
Discovery in a criminal prosecution case can include and is not limited to police offense reports, photographs of crime scenes, witness statements, recorded statements, transcribed statements, lapel camera footage, computer aided dispatch reports, 911 call history, surveillance video, medical or doctor reports, scientific or forensic test reports, ballistic reports, listing of items tagged into evidence, just to mention a few discovery items.
What Torrez calls “gaming” by defense attorney’s is what is called the practice of law by defense attorneys doing their job and mandating the prosecution to do their job and meeting their burden of proof as mandated by our United State Constitution and the presumption of innocence.
By all accounts, the CMO is in fact working with jail overcrowding down, but obviously not to the liking of Torrez because his office must work harder whenever there is a jury trial.
No prosecutor worth their salt should ever be afraid to go trial and prosecute a case once and indictment is secured and should not expect to secure plea agreements without defense attorneys doing their jobs of representing their clients.
Jury trials and the presumption of innocence are critical components of our judicial system that should be respected by prosecutors like Torrez without any reservation.
“Coercive plea bargaining” should not be used to undermine the jury system process just for the sake of avoiding a jury trial.
Rather than blaming the courts and the CMO for his office’s shortcomings, Torrez should be demanding far more cooperation, evidence gathering and work from law enforcement, especially the Albuquerque Police Department.
All District Attorney offices in the State of New Mexico are responsible for bringing and prosecuting charges based on cases investigated and brought to them by law enforcement agencies with the cases screened by the District Attorneys.
When it comes to felonies, final law enforcement reports, called supplemental offense reports, are prepared that contain a narrative of the case, the investigation of the facts of the case, witness statements, an inventory of all the evidence gathered, forensic reports and anything related and needed for a prosecution, and it should all be turned over to the District Attorney.
When the Bernalillo County District Attorney brings charges either by criminal complaint or felony indictment by grand jury, there should be very little need for extensive follow up and gathering of evidence.
If the criminal investigation or the evidence gathering has not been completed by law enforcement, then law enforcement needs to complete their work and not leave the work to the District Attorney.
Once a case is charged, if law enforcement has done its job properly investigating a case, the District Attorney should not have any problem adhering to discovery demands and deadlines of the CMO.
This is not the first time Torrez has complained that his office does not have enough resources to do its job. (See February 11, 2017 Albuquerque Journal “BernCo DA says crime “out of control” in county, page A-2)
Torrez when he ran for District Attorney said our criminal justice in Albuquerque is in dire need of change and he was the guy to do it.
Political rhetoric is different than governing.
Torrez just like APD Chief Gordon Eden and Mayor Berry found it easy to blame his predecessor or the Judicial system and the impact of “catch and release” of repeat offenders on public safety. (See Albuquerque Journal, “Justice Derailed”, February 11, 2017, page A-1)
Why not, it’s easier to blame someone else, especially the court’s, than to just buckle down, do your job and find a solution to the problems even if you did not create them.
The overall budget for the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office is $18,128,000 with personnel salaries & benefits compromising $16,809,000.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s budget dwarfs all other DA offices in the State, as it should, because it has the highest case loads.
The DA’s office employs 287 people which include 108 attorneys, 35 Prosecution Specialists, 15 Victim advocates, 15 investigators 114 Support Staff.
Actual felony grand jury indictments are down by 50% from 8 years ago, yet Torrez has said he needs more staff.
Why does blaming the Case Management Order (CMO) for all the dismissals and more trials sound so familiar?
It’s because that is exactly what Torrez’s predecessor did when the CMO was first implemented in 2015.
Torrez is quickly learning the significant difference between his political rhetoric of promising change and more prosecutions of repeat offenders and the realities of governing.
Torrez has also learned in less than six months how to lay the blame on others about our rising crime rate, including the courts, that has gotten so old with Mayor Berry and Chief Gordon Eden and now City Councilor Dan Lewis who is running for Mayor.
The difference is Berry and Eden will be gone in a few months and we now get to listen to Torrez for three and half more years blaming the courts for his office’s shortcomings.
Sooner or later, Torrez is going to learn that blaming others with front page stories and television reports are no substitute for making tough decisions to run an office and doing a good job, unless you are afraid and want to avoid being held responsible and are harboring higher political ambitions.