Group Suggest Overhaul of State Bail Bond System

A committee appointed by the New Mexico Supreme Court is recommending that the state Constitution be amended to allow judges to keep violent criminal defendants in jail without bail if they are a flight risk or pose a significant danger to an individual or the community.

The so-called preventive detention provision would be just one part of an overhaul of the pretrial release system that also would allow less dangerous offenders out of jail without having to pay bail bond companies to post their bail.

Bail bond industry representatives immediately assailed the recommendation, pledging to fight the proposal.

The issue has come to the forefront recently after a state Supreme Court decision reinforcing the state constitutional right to reasonable bail in all but capital murder cases, along with a number of high-profile crimes committed by defendants who have bonded out, been released on recognizance or had been released from jail under supervision.

Police and advocates for domestic violence victims also have been critical of what they call the “catch-and-release” system currently in place, in which defendants post bail and are back on the streets shortly after their arrest.

The committee on a vote of 7-2 approved a letter that recommends the Supreme Court pursue a constitutional amendment that would permit New Mexico judges to detain defendants pending trial in cases “in which there is no type of pretrial release and/or conditions of pretrial release that will reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court or the safety of any other person and the community.”

The committee decided not to draft a specific amendment, leaving that job to the Supreme Court, Administrative Office of the Court and the Legislature. A constitutional amendment would require approval first by the Legislature and then by the voters.

Leo Romero, a former University of New Mexico Law School dean who is chairman of the committee, told the Journal that “there is a long way to go” for an amendment to come before voters.

Two bail bondsmen on the committee voted against approval.

Gerald Madrid, a prominent Albuquerque bail bondsman and committee member, said that the state Supreme Court has put the entire bail bond industry “under assault” and that he doesn’t think a constitutional amendment would survive the legislative process.

“I really don’t think it has a chance,” Madrid said. “The defense attorneys will be opposed to it. Many legislators will oppose it because it does away with the right to bail.”

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