BLOG
NEWS,
AND  NOTICES

EVENTS, THOUGHTS AND UPDATES FROM THE 13th JUDICIAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE

By Barbara Romo, 13th Judicial District Attorney of New Mexico

I’ve been frequently asked what a District Attorney does. In New Mexico a District Attorney is a public official elected to represent the state in criminal judicial proceedings in a particular judicial district or county. The 13th Judicial District encompasses three counties, Valencia, Cibola, and Sandoval. As the chief law enforcement officer of the district, it is my responsibility to ensure, to the extent possible, fair, ethical, and consistent decisions with the goal of seeking justice, within the constraints of a legislatively controlled budget and limited resources.


I oversee a staff of approximately 80 employees (attorneys, support staff, administration, and investigators). Much like state and local prosecutors around the country, my prosecutors contend with very high caseloads and comparatively lower salaries than what they would be able to earn in other settings. This makes recruitment, training, and retention an ongoing challenge especially because a good portion of our district is rural.


Prosecutors are tasked with establishing the direction and outcome of all criminal cases, particularly through their charging and plea-bargaining decisions. When someone is accused of committing a crime, it is not the police but the DA who has the sole discretion to decide if criminal charges are filed and the severity of those charges.


Not all criminal charges go to trial, nor should they.


Numerous variables go into this decision and frequently what may seem clear cut to the public based on news reports and general knowledge is not necessarily clear cut for the prosecutor. How we proceed after charges are filed is the most important decision we will make and often there are variables which may be out of our control.


· Is there probable cause?

· Is the police report complete and accurate?

· Do we have the evidence?

· Are the witnesses able and willing to cooperate?

· Would a specialty court or diversion program achieve a better outcome and be a more efficient use of our limited resources? (The 13th Judicial District has the option of Mental Health Court, Drug Court, Juvenile Drug Court, and Pre- Prosecution Diversion. I am also exploring the viability of establishing other specialty courts in the district such as Veteran’s Court).

· If the crime is victim enumerated, how do the victims feel?

· What do our state laws support, ethically and constitutionally?


While every District Attorney has essentially the same responsibilities, each District Attorney can have varying philosophical approaches to the position. I am committed to the communities in which we work. Community engagement is a priority for me, a priority I have extended to my staff – encouraging participation through service throughout the community with time off given to do so.


I am also committed to working collaboratively with law enforcement and other related agencies throughout the district. My staff and I meet regularly with law enforcement leaders, members of the court, and victim service organizations such as Haven House, Valencia County Shelter Services and Roberta’s Place, SANE and CYFD through Multi-disciplinary Task Force Meetings, the Community Coordinated Response Team, and others to discuss and address issues and staff cases, to achieve the best possible outcomes. Through my membership in local Rotary Clubs, the Chamber of Commerce and participation in community events throughout the district, my staff and I hear concerns and ideas from community members. My ongoing commitment to the community is to be of value to the community not just an entity that puts bad guys in jail.


District Attorneys also work with the legislature reviewing proposed laws. The New Mexico State Legislature meets for 60 days in odd numbered years and 30-day sessions in even number years. As certain laws are proposed, District Attorneys across the state track certain bills that may affect our work to determine potential collateral impact. We analyze the bills, then send our analysis of them back to the legislative committee for consideration and on occasion incorporation. In some cases, we will take a position as a group in support or in opposition to a proposed law.


My main objective is to do everything within my power to create safety in the community. At the same time, I am committed to supporting programs in the community and within my jurisdiction which support rehabilitation and assistance for those who made mistakes and are committed to becoming productive citizens of their communities.


9 views

By Nina Salazar Pre-Prosecution Diversion Program Specialist


The 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office Administers a Pre-Prosecution Diversion Program (PPD) designed to help first time non-violent offenders stay out of the prison system, make right on their mistakes, and preserve their futures by keeping their records free of felony convictions.


Pre-Prosecution diversion programs identify defendants who are not likely to commit additional offenses and allow them to avoid being formally charged with a criminal offense. A diversion program also allows the conservation of community and criminal justice resources while allowing a person who is unlikely to reoffend to avoid having a formal criminal record.


The 13th Judicial District Attorney’s office has PPD clients in all three counties in our district. While there is a basic criterion required for acceptance into the program, our program customizes the contractual agreement between the defendant and the program to best serve the individual and achieve the best outcome. The time that a defendant is in the program varies from six to 24 months and focuses on personal accountability and achievement. Defendants (“Clients”) who have never graduated from high school must complete their GED or HISET, clients who have addiction issues are required at a minimum to be in outpatient treatment and counseling, everyone is required to give back to the community and either be in school or working full time or some combination of the two.

For some people, the Pre-Prosecution Diversion Program is about statutes and numbers. However, it is the philosophy of the 13th District Attorney’s Office that the program is about people with a belief that an individual who makes a mistake need not be defined by that mistake for the rest of their lives. Every person who enters our program requires something different to get through, contribute and graduate from the program.


B.V. was charged with possession of a controlled substance. She was addicted to prescription drugs when she entered the program. The first thing was to help her get into a treatment program. B.V. was already attending school full-time. She completed her schooling, with a degree in plumbing. However, she had a tough time getting a professional plumbing agency to give her a chance. In my role as the PPD Administrator, I called the Union of Plumbers and they were able to help her get a job at Intel, where she is now completing her plumbing apprenticeship to become a licensed plumber.


L.P. was homeless and arrested for Possession of Controlled Substance. He was in our program for a year, but his contract was extended an extra three months so that he could complete his counseling. It took time and encouragement for him to understand and believe that he could change and be successful. While in the program L.P. got treatment for addiction, secured a job, and is no longer living on streets. He also worked hard to fix his relationship with his children.

One young woman M.S. arrived in the program with a history of petty misdemeanors and a drug problem. At her first meeting M.S. was clearly beaten down. She had lost custody of her child and felt hopeless. It was obvious she was still using. But she had a glint in her eye that indicated she may succeed. Originally scheduled for a year in the program, her contract was extended to 18 months. There were times when it felt as if I was pulling her through the program. The first order of business was to get her into a Suboxone program and help her into a stable living situation to begin to piece her life back together. She thrived with specific assignments like getting a current driver’s license. There were successes and failures along the way, but step by step the balance shifted toward more successes than failures. And with each success M.S. became more confident in herself. She obtained a job, went back to school to become a cosmetologist all while staying in treatment and off heroin. Eventually she also regained custody of her daughter.


When the time came to complete the program, she did not want to graduate because she was afraid, she would lose everything she had gained. She did not trust herself to continue to make good decisions. We wrote down every good decision she had made in the prior 18 months, and then she wrote down every good thing that had come of her decisions. When asked what the most important thing was to come out of the program for her, she looked down at her list, then looked up and said, “I learned I can be good.”

7 views
  • mhowden6

By Robyn Simms, Deputy District Attorney for the Valencia County Office.

 

It is not a secret that crime is a pervasive problem in Valencia County. When a defendant is released from custody after arrest, people often believe that somehow law enforcement has failed to protect the community and/or the District Attorney has failed to successfully argue for a defendant’s incarceration prior to trial. While we do not claim to be infallible the truth of the matter is that the prosecution team is restricted by a 2016 change in the New Mexico Law which makes it much more difficult for prosecutors to argue to keep offenders in custody pending trial. This leaves law enforcement, and community members who have been impacted by the defendant’s actions, frustrated, disappointed and often angry.


The law reads, “Bail may be denied by a court of record pending trial for a defendant charged with a felony if the prosecuting authority requests a hearing and proves by clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.” The result of this law is that very few defendants are kept in custody pending trial. As prosecutors we are bound to work within the confines of the law which sometimes does not support our intended outcome.


The release of a defendant after arrest does not stop the prosecution. Pre-trial release decisions are only the beginning of the District Attorney’s Office pursuit of justice. Repeat offenders are released by the Judge under a set of stringent conditions. Similarly, the release of a defendant does not mean that law enforcement did not do a good job with the arrest, charging and investigation, nor does the defendant’s release pending trial reflect an animus or bias from the judge.


When recommending incarceration for a defendant prior to trial, the prosecution team initiates formal proceedings when clear and convincing evidence shows that no other release conditions can protect the safety of our community. The prosecution teams’ recommendation balanced with the defendant’s presumption of innocence. Within this delicate balancing act the Judge, and prosecutors make decisions which take into consideration the safety of the community coupled with the constitutional guidelines rooted in our criminal justice system.


It is a misconception that pretrial incarceration is the only deterrent to future criminal misconduct. Valencia County has effective resources such as Pre-Trial Services and in some instances law enforcement to monitor defendants who have been released pending trial but, it is the responsibility of the defendant to comply with their conditions of release and to either abide by the law or not abide by the law. Conditions of release do not give a defendant free reign within the community while awaiting trial. Should a defendant violate their conditions of release and/or commit a crime the prosecutors receive notice and then request revocation of release pending trial.


Though it appears that the law unfairly benefits the defendant at the expense of the community this is not the case. Every member of the criminal justice system, from the judge to the defense, to prosecutors and law enforcement work diligently to honor the law and constitution regardless of any individual opinions regarding the status of the law.


Without hesitation I know that the best law enforcement officers I have ever worked with protect our community. We work collaboratively with law enforcement who day in, and day out strive to effectively investigate crime and protect the community. All of us are equally bound to the laws we are bound to enforce. Every decision we make as integral participants within the criminal justice system, reflects our understanding of the law and our underlying commitment to both Federal and State constitutions.


Under the leadership of District Attorney Barbara Romo, and with the commitment of my prosecution team we endeavor every day to build upon what is already a great working relationship with each law enforcement agency in our District - Belen, Los Lunas, Bosque Farms and Isleta Police Departments, Valencia County Sheriff’s Department and New Mexico State Police. Their continued commitment to public safety and their tireless efforts dedicated to the protection of this community do not go unnoticed.


4 views