On August 16, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she had order 35 New Mexico State Police (NMSP) officers to begin “proactive operations” and crime suppression operations in the Albuquerque area to help deal with the rising violent crime rates. During her announcement the Governor took the opportunity to make a pitch for funding from the legislature for the upcoming 2022 legislative session that begins mid January 2022 to hire 1,000 new police officers in the next few years. The Legislature will meet in special session in the fall to deal with redistricting. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she will put criminal justice initiatives on the “Governor’s call agenda” for the 30-day session that is confined to budget negotiations.
On August 16, House Republicans urged Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to call a special session focused on crime. Tripp Stelnicki, spokesman for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the governor has no plans to call a special session on crime this year. Stelnicki said:
“The 30-day session is only a few short months away and we’re using the time between now and then to identify which proposals have legs and will make a difference, rather than those that are just talking points and empty demands. ”
DEMOCRATS ANNOUNCE CRIME PACKAGE
On September 3, and in the wake of the killing of 13-year-old, eighth grader Bennie Hargrove being shot and killed at Washington Middle school by another student who took his dad’s gun to school, 4 APD police officers being shot while trying to arrest a violent criminal, and Albuquerque breaking the all-time homicide record with 86 murders, specific crime measures are being proposed for the upcoming 30-day legislative session.
Seventeen House Democrats, including majority floor leader Javier Martinez and Representatives Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque, announced a lengthy list of goals for next regular legislative session that begins January 18, 2022. The legislation is being offered to address the he increase in violent crime in Albuquerque which is seen by the rest of the state as the center of violent crime. Last year, CBS News rated Albuquerque ninth among the top 50 most violent cities in the country. There have been 86 victims of homicide this year in Albuquerque.
Proposals for the session comes as legislators are preparing for two legislative sessions: a special redistricting session later this year and a 30-day regular session starting January 18, 2022. From January 4, 2022 to January 14 legislation may be prefilled by legislators for he session beginning on January 18 at noon and ending February 2 at noon.
The “crime-fighting” package proposed includes expanded mental health treatment programs and increased criminal penalties. As presented, the proposed legislation includes 16 proposals. Some of the proposed legislation is being drafted but it is anticipated that much of it will be finalized and profiled from January 4 to January 14.
Major highlights of the legislation outlined by the Albuquerque area Democrats include the following:
1. Major changes to the state’s pretrial detention system to keep certain individuals charged with violent crimes in jail until trial.
2. Extending prosecutors’ time limit for filing second-degree murder charges.
3. Increasing the criminal penalties for violent crime such as second degree murder. The current penalty for second degree murder is an 18 year basic sentence and is 12 years with mitigating circumstance and 24 years with aggravating circumstances.
4. Create new criminal penalty for failing to safely store firearms out of children’s reach.
5. To address gun violence, the legislators want establish state office of gun violence protection.
6. Place new restrictions or the sale or reduce high-capacity ammunition magazines for automatic weapons.
7. Increase pay levels and provide retention bonuses for law enforcement officers and provide recruitment and retention money and policies for police officers.
8. Crack down on those who own or operate chop shops that sell stolen vehicle parts such catalytic converters in automobiles and a crackdown on property damage in the theft of copper. an
9. Extend statute of limitations for certain violent crimes.
10. Increase funding for crime prevention grant program for local communities for street lighting .
11. Expand youth substance abuse and detox centers and increase the workforce that provides service for mental health and addiction..
In recent years the legislature has passed tougher penalties for drunken driving and distributing child pornography and have been signed into law.
Representative Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said lawmakers are offering the legislation now because they want to get the governor’s attention so she and her staff can start looking at the proposal and “make decisions on where we are going.” Maestas said it’s time for lawmakers to “start pricing out the proposals.” He also said momentum has been building among lawmakers to do something about crime and said “We’re part of the community that feels the sorrow and pain our constituents do.”
Representative Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, said that she is hopeful some crime-related proposals, including a bill dealing with penalties for stealing copper materials, can win bipartisan support.
Representative Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, the chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the proposed crime package is supported by all 18 House Democrats from Albuquerque. According to Chasey, the legislation is taking a “multi-faceted approach” to addressing violent crime across the state and had this to say:
“What’s become evident is that while we have been increasing our investments in long-term solutions like education, families, and mental and behavioral health, much more needs to be done to address the violence happening today.”
Links to quoted news source and articles are here:
GOV.MLG BACKS CHANGES IN PRE-TRIAL DETENTION SYSTEM
It was in 2016 that New Mexico voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that did away with the money bail bond system. The change in the law resulted in doing away with defendants charge with low level nonviolent crimes being held simply because they lacked the ability to post a bond. It further authorized judges to order defendants charged with violent crimes held in custody without bond jailed until trial only if prosecutors can show the accused represents a danger to the community and that there are no conditions of release that will protect the community.
On August 28, Governor Lujan Grisham made it known now that she wants to see changes in the state’s pretrial detention system now viewed as too lenient in releasing violent criminals pending trial. According to the Governor, she wants to shift the burden of proof so that people charged with violent offenses are required to show they can safely be released into the community pending trial. In a statement, Lujan Grisham had this to say:
“I believe a rebuttable presumption for individuals accused of violent crimes can be a wedge in the revolving door of repeat violent offenses that have characterized the worst aspects of the crime our state continues to experience.”
The Governor’s change of heart relating to pre-trial detention and jailing those who are charged with violent crimes until trial should sound familiar. Since being elected to his first term as Bernalillo County District Attorney in 2016, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez has pushed for such changes claiming that judges were requiring prosecutors to prove that there were no conditions of release pending trial that would insure the public’s safety and that a defendant posed an immediate threat to the public. Now that he is running for Attorney General, expect Torrez to push it even harder so he can claim credit if it passes the legislature.
Not at all surprising is that Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur opposes the shift in the burden of proof making it the burden of the accused to establish they are not a danger to the community and should be released pending trial. Such a rebuttable presumption of dangerousness and holding an accused until trial shifts the burden of proof to a defendant and is contrary to the constitutional right of presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution. According to Bauer, only 3% of people released prior to trial commit a violent crime after their release pending trial and said:
“I’m extremely concerned about allowing the government to hold people in jail for months just because someone said you did something.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham along with statewide offices for governor, attorney general and secretary of state and all 70 members of the New Mexico House are up for re-election in 2022 and this explain in part why crime is now emerging as a priority.
DER FÜHRER REPUBLICAN PARTY RHETORIC
In the past, Democratic lawmakers blocked many Republicans backed crime bills from advancing including a push to bring back the death penalty for those convicted of certain violent offenses. It is not at all likely that the death penalty will ever be reinstated in the state in that Democrats hold a commanding 45-24 advantage over Republican’s and that is not likely to change.
When asked if crime is going to be an issue for lawmakers to contend with in next year’s 2022 general election, Representative Maestas said:
“Sadly, the rhetoric of last few months has made it a political issue, and I’m sure next fall it will become a political issue again.”
True to form, Republicans are already trying to make crime an issue. House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, sent out an email responding to the Albuquerque Democrats’ proposal and said in his email:
“We hope they are as serious about addressing crime as they have been about coddling criminals throughout our communities. We also hope they start to give law enforcement the credit and respect they deserve. The disregard Democrat legislators have for our officers is simply not conducive to turning things around.”
When the New Mexico Der Führer Republican Party had the majority in the New Mexico house not more than 6 years ago, Der Führer Republicans and the likes of Republican James Townsend, R-Artesia had no problem with the heavy-handed approach they took against all Democrat House members. Republicans blocked all Democrat sponsored legislation and went along with the “all crime all the time” sessions promoted by former Governor “She Who Shall Not Be Named”. New Mexico Der Führer Republican Party legislators have always had the “lock em up and throw away the key” crime philosophy. They believe no one can be rehabilitated and warehousing those convicted of crimes at all levels, including non violent crimes and white collar crimes, and be damned the cost and the overcrowding. It was that philosophy which lead to the Bernalillo County Jail becoming so severely overcrowded that a federal lawsuit was filed that lasted 20 years and court supervision of the jail with millions spent to build a new jail.
The truth is the only thing that would be conducive to turning things around in New Mexico is for Der Führer Republicans such as Townsend to knock it off with their inflammatory and false accusations and blaming Democrats for being “soft on crime”. If not, they should move to Texas and run for the legislature where they would likely feel far more comfortable. What you can expect from the likes of Townsend is an attempt to reinstate the death penalty, making a woman’s right to choose an abortion in the state illegal, eliminating mental health care and drug treatment programs and believing the only way to bring down crime is to warehouse and jail people for any and all crimes believing that once a criminal, always a criminal.
CALL SPECIAL SESSION ON CRIME AND GUN CONTROL
Thirty-day legislative sessions, also known as a short session, are supposed to be limited to budget and tax legislation, proposed constitutional amendments and previously vetoed bills. The “crime-fighting” package outlined on August 2 by Albuquerque area democrats is a very good start but much more can be done. It would be a major mistake for the New Mexico Legislature to even attempt to tackle enactment in a 30 day session of so much crime legislation.
Despite whatever misgivings the Governor may have, she should consider a Special Legislative Session to immediately follow the 30 days session to deal exclusively with crime and responsible gun control legislation.
A special legislature should consider the following:
1.Enact legislation making it a crime to fail to secure a firearm. Gun owners would have to keep their firearms in a locked container or otherwise make them inaccessible to anyone but the owner or other authorized users.
2.Review additional bail bond reforms and statutorily empower judges with more authority and more discretion to hold and jail those pending trial who have prior violent crime convictions.
3. Prohibit in New Mexico the sale of “ghost guns” parts. Ghost guns are guns that are manufactured and sold in parts without any serial numbers to be assembled by the purchaser and that can be sold to anyone.
4. Requiring in New Mexico the mandatory purchase of “liability insurance” with each gun sold as is required for all operable vehicles bought and driven in New Mexico.
5. Enact a gun violence restraining order and extreme risk protection process to temporarily prohibit an individual deemed by a judge to pose a danger to self or others, from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition and allow law local law enforcement to remove any firearms or ammunition already in the individual’s possession.
6. Restrict and penalize firearm possession by or transfer to a person subject to a domestic violence protection order or a person, including dating partners, convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor.
7. Mandate and fund public school systems and higher education institutions to “harden” their facilities with more security doors, security windows, security measures, including metal detectors at single entrances designated and alarm systems and security cameras tied directly to law enforcement 911 emergency operations centers.
8. Repeal the New Mexico Constitutional provision that allows the “open carry” of firearms. This would require a public vote and no doubt generate heated discussion given New Mexico’s high percentage of gun ownership for hunting, sport or hobby.
Without reasonable and responsible gun control legislation, and aggressive law enforcement and prosecution of violent criminals, New Mexico and Albuquerque will continue have spiking violent crime and such rates will be the new normal and not the exception.