PRE-TRIAL RELEASE: Latest Data Shows Too Many Crimes Committed Under Court Supervision

Last week, the Administrative Office of the Courts presented the latest pre-trial release data to the state Legislative Finance Committee. The study identified 3,595 cases that ran their course in four judicial districts — which did not include Bernalillo County — between October 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, where the defendant was not detained pre-trial and was instead released under various levels of pre-trial supervision. Across the four judicial districts:

  • Nearly 1 out of every 4 released defendants did NOT show up for a court hearing, delaying justice, burdening key witnesses, and causing additional work for police and prosecutors.
  • On average, 13 released defendants per week were charged with committing a new crime while out of jail pre-trial and under supervision.
  • 5 released defendants per week were charged with committing a new violent crime while awaiting trial.

“For a moment, imagine being a violent crime victim, knowing that your assailant was captured by police and the judicial system chose to put them back into the community… giving them the opportunity to cause harm to you or your family,” said Chamber President & CEO Terri Cole. “And it’s no wonder our police officers are frustrated: they have to spend their time and risk their lives arresting the same people over and over again.”

An important note: as staggering as the statistics above are, they underestimate the reality of the situation. Why? Two reasons…

First, it’s reasonable to suspect that many of the released defendants who get arrested again while awaiting trial weren’t, in fact, arrested while committing their first new crime. How many other crimes did they commit —and how many other people did they victimize — before finally being caught? It’s impossible to know.

And second, how many released defendants are committing new property and violent crimes and just haven’t been caught (again) yet? Once again, it’s impossible to know, but reasonable to believe it’s happening.

“If we agree that a criminal must face swift and certain consequences for their criminal acts in order to deter future crime, then the catch-and-release system in New Mexico is failing us in a big way,” said Chamber Board member Del Esparza, who leads the Chamber’s public safety work. “Offenders who commit serious crimes —and repeat offenders —are immediately being released from jail in New Mexico. What message does that send them? Assuming it ever comes, punishment in our state is anything but swift and certain.”

Without real change, it appears we’ll continue to have stories of offenders like lzaiah Bolagh, who was recently charged for a second time in two years for the same crimes of child abuse and shooting a firearm from a motor vehicle – both times with his son, now four years old, in the car. After the first incident, the District Attorney’s Office moved to have Bolagh await trial behind bars, but the judge denied it. And, with Bolagh left with unrestricted access to his firearms, his child, and opportunity, history repeated itself.

The judicial districts covered in this most recent study are the 11th (San Juan/McKinley), 13th (Cibola, Valencia, and Sandoval), 6th (Hidalgo, Grant, and Luna), and 3rd (Dona Ana) judicial districts. Data about Bernalillo County’s pre- trial release program was released last year and showed strikingly similar results.

In Bernalillo County, the latest figures indicate that around 13 times per week, a released defendant is arrested for committing a new crime, with more than 6 in 10 of these new crimes being felony offenses. Wow. Every other day in the Albuquerque area, a released defendant is picked up again for committing a new violent crime. Click here to read our Chamber’s op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal published last fall on the subject of pre-trial release in Bernalillo County, in which we argue for changes to the State’s bail reform laws that would keep more dangerous and repeat offenders behind bars pre-trial.

Remarkably, the judiciary, defense bar, and legislative analysts are so ideologically invested in the policy of pre-trial release that — despite what the data means for those of us living in New Mexico during this crime wave — they celebrate these recent studies as signs that the system is working. Their analysis goes no further than simply pointing to the fact that, for example, 86% of released defendants NOT being arrested for a new crime prior to trial is a big number, so things must be going very well. There is no effort paid to analyzing —as we have
today — the impact on public safety of the 14% of defendants (and likely more) who DID get arrested for committing a new crime upon release.

“Nearly one in four released defendants skipping out on court hearings? Five released defendants being charged with new violent crimes EVERY WEEK, across just four judicial districts? This is unacceptable, and rather than patting themselves on the back, we really need our justice system to recognize there’s a problem and commit to fixing it,” concluded Cole.

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