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Court Rule Change Explained

Court Rule Change Explained

'There is nothing in the rule that requires all of the scientific evidence to be provided at arraignment' - Chief Justice Barbara Vigil


The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday clarified what seems to have confused almost everyone in the criminal justice system and media: exactly what prosecutors have to turn over to defense attorneys within seven to 10 days of a person being charged with a crime.

Authorities are required to hand over only the evidence and information they have on which they based those charges, and not the entire case and not all of the evidence.

“There is nothing in the rule that requires all of the scientific evidence to be provided at arraignment,” Chief Justice Barbara Vigil said during a hearing in Albuquerque on the Supreme Court’s so-called 10-day rule. “It should not result in dismissal if all the evidence is not produced at arraignment.”

The exact meaning of the court’s Case Management Order for Bernalillo County, which took effect earlier this year, seems to have confused a lot of people. District Attorney Kari Brandenburg has claimed that district court judges here have dismissed “hundreds of cases” because her office hasn’t handed all the evidence to defense attorneys within 10 days of the charges.

As a result, Brandenburg said Tuesday that her office is on track to indict 3,000 fewer cases this year because of fear that they would be dismissed for failure to produce all evidence within seven to 10 days of an indictment. “We think it is because of the CMO,” Brandenburg said after a two-hour-long meeting on the rule. “Judges are dismissing cases” because of a failure by her office to turn over all the evidence in those cases. Brandenburg said that in 2014 her office obtained indictments in 5,000 cases. This year, indictments will total 2,000, she added.

But during the hearing on how the CMO should be modified, Vigil and other justices made it clear that at least some people have been misinterpreting the rule. The CMO sets deadlines for production of evidence, and for trials to begin on three categories of criminal charges: the least complex, moderately complex, and highly complex like first and second-degree felonies. Brandenburg has repeatedly said that her office and the Albuquerque Police Department have had difficulty in meeting the rule’s deadlines. She has also blamed the rule for the fact that several repeat violent offenders have been let back out on the streets to offend again.

“We feel that the focus is on the efficient resolution of cases instead of justice,” Brandenburg told the Supreme Court justices and law enforcement officials who attended the meeting at the Albuqueruq offices of the New Mexico Court of Appeals. “Efficiency is taking precedence over common sense. We are feeling that it is all about efficiency.”

But Vigil fired back saying the CMO was needed because criminal cases were moving too slowly in Bernalillo County “We saw a culture in this county where things had been wallowing for years,” she said, adding that the rule was needed to “provide clear, firm and fair procedures at every stage” of the criminal justice process and that it will lead to “timely justice.”

Chief Bernalillo County Criminal Court Judge Charles Brown also challenged Brandenburg’s claim that judges were dismissing hundreds of criminal cases because of the CMO. “The issue is the non-10-day cases that may be two or three years later,” Brown said.

Brandenburg also said that her office is short staffed and is having trouble meeting the CMO’s requirements. She said her office needs 28 more attorneys and 30 additional support staff just to keep up with the increasing number of criminal cases in the county.

Several agencies, including Brandenburg’s office, submitted proposed amendments to the CMO, many of them asking for more time for police and prosecutors more time to move a case forward to trial. The Court is expected to make a decision on proposed amendments in the next month or so.

After the meeting, Albuquerque Police Department Chief Gorden Eden said he was pleased at what he heard from the high court justices. “I think we are getting things fixed,” Eden said, citing the clarification on the 10-day rule. “This is a collaborative effort to have a more effective criminal justice system. We are getting a lot of the issues resolved.”





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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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