New Mexico gubernatorial candidates Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce have now both taken a position on a judge’s controversial decision to release on a signature bond 5 adults arrested at compound north of Taos.
All 5 defendants have been charged by the Taos District Attorney with child abuse and nothing more, even after the body of a child was found on the property.
The cause of death of the child has yet to be determined by an autopsy.
During the bond hearing for release, the District Attorney presented no evidence to the Judge of child abuse and no evidence of the condition of the other children.
During the bond hearing, the District Attorney alleged that one of the adults was training children at the compound to attack “corrupt institutions,” which could include schools, law enforcement agencies and banks.
As inflammatory and alarming the claim of terrorism was, the Taos District Attorney offered no evidence of the allegation to substantiate the claim prompting the Judge to write in her ruling:
“No actual threats of terrorism or any credible evidence of a substantive plan was produced regarding the same. … the Court is requested by the State to surmise that these people are dangerous terrorists with a plot against the Country or institutions … The Court may not surmise, guess or assume. … The [District Attorney] did not produce any evidence of any history of violence that would cause the Court to conclude that they are a danger to the community or are unlikely to appear at hearings or to abide by their conditions of release.”
The Judge found that the Taos District Attorney did not prove that the suspects were dangerous to the community.
The Court’s bond release ruling drew sharp criticism and public outcry with threats of violence against the Judge to the point the Taos County Courthouse had to be closed.
GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATES POSTIONS
Not at all surprising, both Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce are now saying they favor re-examining the state’s current rules for pretrial release of violent offenders, which were enacted after voters approved a 2016 constitutional amendment.
Democrat Mitchell Lujan Grisham stated:
“We have an obligation to re-examine New Mexico’s pretrial detention policies, which empower judges to detain a defendant due to the severity of the crime. Ultimately, judges have a sacred responsibility to safeguard public safety, protect vulnerable populations and ensure that the community is not subject to further risk.”
Republican Steve Pearce stated:
“The state of New Mexico needs to be able to hold people who pose a significant flight risk without bond, and we, the people, should provide the courts with what we mean by ‘dangerous’. Judicial interpretation cannot continue to take the most extreme and lenient position to override the will of the people and compromise the safety of New Mexico communities, as it is under the current system.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Under the United States Constitution, all are guaranteed the right of due process of law no matter how heinous or violent the crime.
In criminal trials, any defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution.
The new court rules on bond hearings and the degree of proof needed to detain an accused are indeed a “work in progress” as pointed out by State Representative Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee when she said:
“I think we need to give the court some time to figure this out.”
The New Mexico Supreme Court needs to revisit the bond rules and find a solution that will give the District Court’s more latitude and discretionary authority when it comes to the bond hearings.
It was very appropriate for both candidates for Governor to voice concerns about the ruling and the constitutional amendment.
Given the public safety importance of “bond hearings” where a judge determines if an accused is released or held in jail pending a trial, it is extremely important that the candidates for Governor and the public understand our constitutional rights and guarantees of due process of law and the presumption of innocence.
What is clear is that that Michelle Lujan Grisham understands our constitutional rights of due process of law.
Lujan Grisham’s remarks were measured, but more importantly she understands the role of the judiciary and the judges when she said: “Ultimately, judges have a sacred responsibility to safeguard public safety, protect vulnerable populations… .”
Lujan Grisham understands that the role of the courts is to protect our freedoms and constitutional rights of due process of law.
Vilifying Judges and court rulings are a popular tactic perfected by President Trump and the Republicans to gin up their conservative base.
Steve Pearce’s comments “Judicial interpretation cannot continue to take the most extreme and lenient position to override the will of the people and compromise the safety of New Mexico communities” falls right in line with the vilification of our judicial system.
Pearce’s remarks reflect the philosophy of damn our constitutional rights of due process of law and the presumption of innocence.
What is also clear is that Republican Steve Pearce promotes the ultra-right wing Republican agenda by wrapping himself around his definition of “the will of the people” and ignoring the “constitutional rights of the person”.
For more on the Taos 5 bond ruling see: