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NM Chief Justice Supports Bail Reform

NM Chief Justice Supports Bail Reform

The amendment would give judges the authority to deny bond to criminal felony suspects deemed dangerous to the community who pose a flight risk.

Daniels Rips Current “Money for Freedom” System


Passage by New Mexico voters in November of a constitutional amendment to reform the state’s bail system would end a flawed “money for freedom” system that guarantees bonds to those who have money and keeps those without it in jail, New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels said Wednesday.

And, it would give judges the authority do something they don’t now have under the state’s constitution: the ability to deny bonds to defendants who are deemed dangerous, or who pose a flight risk

Currently, under the state’s constitution, all criminal defendants “have an absolute right to bond, no matter how devious [they are],” Daniels said in a talk to the Economic Forum of Albuquerque. That means that judges are required to set bonds for every felony criminal suspect, no matter how dangerous or how great a flight risk they are deemed to be.

The proposed amendment would give judges the authority to deny bond to criminal felony suspects who are deemed dangerous to the community and who pose a flight risk, Daniels told the audience of business leaders at the Hotel Albuquerque.

The current system favors fails for-profit bail bonds businesses that, by state law, take a guaranteed 10 percent of the bond from a suspect. It also favors people who have money and punishes those who don’t, Daniels said.

The “money for freedom system” is “based on whether you have money, or access to money, or access to a friendly bail bondsman with a payment plan,” Daniels said. “We are turning loose the wrong people and we are jailing the wrong people.”

The current pretrial justice system, as Daniels called it, has been criticized for tying judges’ hands and forcing them to let violent and repeat offenders out on bond. Violent suspects who have access to bail bondsmen have been released from jail, even though they’ve had high bonds, while people charged with nonviolent crimes have languished for weeks or months in jail prior to trail because they couldn’t raise a $500 bond, Daniels said.

The proposed amendment unanimously passed both houses of the state Legislature in this year’s legislative session. Only the bail bond industry opposed it, Daniels said.

History of Bail Bonds

During his talk, Daniels gave a history of the bail bond system, which he said took deep root in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The current bail bond system, where money can spring a suspect from jail, began taking shape after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, Daniels said. Prior to that, there weren’t any real jails or prisons, and the families and friends of people accused of crimes agreed to make the victims whole.

But after the Norman conquest, England began to be ruled by kings who decreed that crimes were offenses against the crown. Jails sprang up and judges began setting monetary bonds, which had to be paid to local authorities instead of to the victims.

A Messy Patchwork System in New Mexico

In New Mexico, a messy and nonuniform patchwork of preset bonds for minor offenses like jaywalking and loitering has developed over the years. Judges, local law enforcement authorities and bail bondsmen have gotten together and set pre-determined bonds, say $100 for jaywalking, for those offenses. The problem, Daniels said, is that there is no uniformity and the bonds vary from county to county.

Daniels called the current bail bond system “a growth on the system” that has squeezed “through the cracks and crevices of the system.” The question, he asked, “is whether these cracks and crevices should be there.”

(Photo: New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels addressing the Economic Forum of Albuquerque Wednesday morning.)

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

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  • The Update: 4-29-16 | Beatriz Simpkins
    April 29, 2016, 2:52 pm

    […] implemented to help clean up Kirtland Air Force Base fuel spill; N.M. Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels advocates proposed constitutional amendment (which will be on the November ballot) to give judges the authority to deny bail to dangerous […]

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