In his six (6) months in office, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez has managed to “sour” the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s working relationship with the State District Court Criminal Division.
Torrez has done this with his continuous campaign to blame and hold judges responsible for Albuquerque’s spike in crime and arguing that our judicial system is broken.
The District Court has effectively knocked District Attorney Raul Torrez off his white horse with its own actions and analysis of case dismissals revealing that it is the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office that bears a large responsibility with the dismissal of criminal cases.
(See July 21, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A1, “Study: Judges dropped fewer cases than DA; District Court’s analysis is in response to Torrez’s criticism of case management order)
Torrez had the Bernalillo County District Attorney Office issue a report that outlines problems he claimed have been caused by the Supreme Court Case Management Order (CMO).
In response to Torrez, the District Court did its own analysis of criminal cases filed this year in Bernalillo County and during Raul Torrez’s first six months in office as District Attorney.
The CMO was issued by the New Mexico Supreme Court in February 2015 to eliminate the unacceptable backlog of criminal trials and to set deadlines for criminal prosecutions to ensure speedier trials for defendants and to deal with an overcrowded jail system.
The biggest point of dispute in the DA’s report was that the CMO was “the most likely” reason Albuquerque has seen a severe spike in crime because too many violent offenders were being let go with the dismissal of cases by the District Court Judges.
The DA’s report said defense attorneys were using “gamesmanship” to get cases dismissed under the CMO by demanding evidence they are entitled to under the law and asking for trials instead of entering into plea agreements.
Torrez also claimed that some of the decisions by the judges to dismiss cases were “absurd” and that defense attorneys were getting their clients off on technicalities.
The District Court analysis found that it was the District Attorney’s office that voluntarily dismissed more than twice as many cases as the judges have dismissed in the last six months and since Torrez took office.
During the first six months of this year, there were about 2,350 new felony cases filed in State District Court with the District Attorney prosecutors dismissing 617 and the District Court Judges dismissing 304 cases.
The District Court’s review of cases filed found that most of the time the District Attorney’s office either did not provide a reason for the dismissal, cases were dropped because victims or witnesses refused to cooperate or the state did not have sufficient evidence to proceed with the prosecution.
Torrez is now saying that the District Court’s analysis “doesn’t tell the whole story” when it was his own report that did not tell the “whole story” and was riddled with inflammatory accusations against the judges and defense attorneys.
Torrez is now back tracking saying: “It’s never been my contention that (the CMO) is the only reason for the increase in crime. There are a lot of different factors at play here. But the (CMO) has an impact, too. I can’t control (police) … .”
FELONY CRIME STATISTICS AND APD STAFFING SHORTAGE
The Court’s memo accurately points out that the increase in crime rates have been in the making for the last seven (7) years and felony statistics establish this fact.
Crimes started to increase in Albuquerque in 2010 and 2011, at least six (6) years before the CMO was issued by the Supreme Court and went into effect.
According to the District Court analysis, the number of arrests that the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has made has dropped significantly over the last seven (7) years.
In 2010, APD made approximately 2,000 arrests a month while in 2016 APD made between 1,000 and 1,500 a month.
According to Albuquerque Police Department (APD) statistics, the total number of violent crimes in Albuquerque increased and went from 4,291 crimes in 2010 to 5,409 in 2015.
The total number of property crimes in Albuquerque increased each year during the last six (6) years and went from 26,493 crimes in 2010 to 34,082 in 2015 according to APD.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office reported that from 2009 to 2015, Albuquerque’s violent crime rate increased by 21.5%.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics reveal that in the last eight (8) years, Albuquerque has become the is fifth-most violent city in the country on a per capita basis while the nation’s violent crime rate dropped by 13.7%.
Albuquerque has become number one in the nation for auto thefts and in 2016, more than 10,000 vehicles were stolen in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County or more than 27 vehicles a day.
In eight (8) years, APD went from 1,100 sworn police officers to 844 sworn police officers.
In 2017, APD employs 854 sworn officers with only 436 sworn police assigned to field services and is severely shorthanded in the felony divisions to complete investigations and turn the cases over to the District Attorney for prosecution.
A PATTERN OF LAYING BLAME
When Torrez ran for Bernalillo County District Attorney he said our criminal justice system was broken and in dire need of change and he was the guy to get it done.
The District Attorney’s report is not the first time Torrez has blamed the Courts for the rise in crime nor the first time he has made his displeasure known about court rulings.
A few months ago, District Attorney Raul Torrez went all the way to the New Mexico Supreme court asking it to clarify the recently enacted “no bond” rule enacted by voters. (See March 30, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1 “DA asks high court to clarify no-bond rules; Efforts to hold dangerous defendants often blocked”.)
Torrez claimed he was frustrated with elected District Court Judges blocking his efforts to keep dangerous criminals in jail without bond until their trials arguing the District Courts were demanding more evidence than what he felt was needed at bond hearings allowed by the “no bond” rule.
In his quest to get the NM Supreme Court to issue further guidelines for “no bond” hearings, District Attorney Raul Torrez asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to direct 2nd Judicial District Stan Whitaker, a former Assistant US Attorney and prosecutor, to reconsider his order that denied the DA’s office attempt to keep two suspects in jail without bond until trial, asserting that Judge Whitaker had abused his discretion as a judge by asking for more evidence.
The Supreme Court found the Judge Whitaker had done nothing improper but agreed to issue further guidelines to the Courts.
When the District Court disputed the District Attorney’s accusation that the Court and its Case Management Order (CMO) were to blame for Albuquerque’s rising crime rates and the backlog of thousands of cases, the District Court called Torrez’s bluff on the CMO.
(See June 30, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1 “Judges: Courts not to blame for rise in crime; District judges ‘strongly dispute’ DA’ criticism.)
The District Court told Torrez that additional preliminary hearing times would be scheduled to deal specifically with cases dismissed by the court “because of the District Attorney office’s failure to comply” with the case management order deadlines.
Presiding District Court Judge Nan Nash and District Judge Charles Brown said in a letter to Torrez “You have told us and the public that you are ready to get these cases refiled and moving … [so] Let’s get moving together to accomplish this goal.”
Torrez’s response was more preliminary hearing won’t solve the problem and the “[t]he solution is to dismiss fewer cases for reasons that would not be granted in other counties in the state”.
Torrez’s response was an admission that his office cannot be ready for court on cases his office has filed or has apparently dismissed with no good reason.
What Torrez wants is more time to prepare for court and wants to keep defendants in jail longer pending trial, which is what caused the necessity of the case management order in the first place.
What Torrez is saying with his actions is that he is frustrated and does not like that judges are enforcing our constitutional rights of “presumption of innocence” and “due process of law”.
FAMILIAR TACTIC TO GIN UP ANIMOSITY
Attacking our Judicial system and judge’s rulings in criminal cases is a familiar tactic of those who are running for office and who want to “gin up” public animosity towards judges, garner favor with the voting public and degrades our constitutional rights of presumption of innocence and due process of law.
All judge’s take an oath of office to preserve, defend and protect our constitution.
Judges are strictly prohibited by the Supreme Court Rules and the Code of Judicial Conduct from commenting on pending cases and voicing opinions that call into question their fairness and impartiality, especially in criminal cases.
Judges are prohibited by the Code of Judicial conduct from defending their decisions and sentencing in a public forum outside of their courtroom.
Criticizing judges has very little consequences when done by private citizens.
However, when an elected District Attorney engages in false or inflammatory accusations against elected Judges who have taken the same oath of office to defend our constitution, it undermines our criminal justice system in the eyes of the public.
Albuquerque’s increasing crime rates have very little to do with the Supermen Court’s Case Management Order implemented in 2015 and the statistics for the last eight (8) years bear this out.
Albuquerque’s increasing crimes rates have a lot to do with the fact that APD is so severely understaffed it cannot complete felony investigations and get the cases over to the District Attorney for successful prosecution.
Sooner or later, Torrez is going to learn that blaming the Courts with front page stories and television reports with false, misleading or inflammatory accusations against Judges are no substitute for making tough decisions to run an office and doing a good job.
District Attorney Raul Torrez needs to pick himself up, dust himself off and buckle down and do his job as best he can with the resources he has and cease blaming judges for Albuquerque’s high crime rates.