The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that live witness testimony is not always needed for “no-bond holds”.
(See April 13, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, “NM high court: Witnesses not always needed for no-bond hold; DA Torrez calls opinion good step; defense lawyers calls it frightening”.)
The “no bond” rule states “bail may be denied by a court of record pending trial for a defendant charged with a felony if the prosecuting authority requests a hearing and proves by clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.”
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez argued that District Judges are demanding too much evidence before holding alleged dangerous and violent defendants in jail without bond prior to trial so Torrez filed a petition with the New Mexico Supreme Court for further clarification and guidance from the court.
The final New Mexico Supreme Court ruling is a common sense ruling and will go a long way to preserve the constitutional rights of “due process of law”.
The New Mexico Supreme Court did NOT find and did NOT rule that Judge Stan Whitaker abused his discretion as a judge which is what District Attorney Raul Torres was alleging when Judge Whitaker denied a “no bond hold” for the DA’s failure to present testimony and more evidence in a “no bond” hearing.
The Supreme Court did NOT order the cases be remanded back to Judge Whitaker as the DA requested.
What the Supreme held is that in certain cases judges may need and may ask for more testimony or evidence to hold a defendant without bond, which is exactly what Judge Whitaker was asking for from the Bernalillo County District Attorney in the first place.
What Justice Daniels did say is “These are decisions [to order no bond holds] made in individual cases involving individual human beings and varying circumstances. … To say that a judge must always have eyewitnesses is inconsistent with the very thought of case-by-case adjudication.”
What will happen now is that the Supreme Court will issue a written opinion and give guidelines that will likely list any number of evidentiary items that can be relied on by a District Court to issue a “no bond” hold.
Such evidentiary items could include live witness testimony or sworn written affidavits from investigating officers, victims, probation officers, witnesses to a crime, documentary evidence such as medical records showing injuries, office of medical investigator (OMI) reports, police reports, police videos, photographs, recorded statements, affidavits relating to the defendants, written statements, depositions, criminals complaints, criminal records, psychological profiles just to mention a few.
The importance of the ruling is that the District Judges are being given wide range of discretion to decide what is clear and convincing evidence that shows no release conditions exist that will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.
In Justice Daniel’s words “You can’t reduce these things [“no bond” holds] to a computer program. … That’s why we have judges who make decisions.”