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By Chief Administrative Officer Melissa Howden

When District Attorney Romo took office a year and a half ago she said, “I intend for this office to be seen as a value to the community not just as something that puts bad guys in jail.”

One of the initial actions taken toward the goal of full community engagement was to encourage our staff to engage in community service. By giving staff time off for volunteer hours, we have made it increasingly possible for staff and their families, to invest in the communities of our district.

This initiative has supplemented and supported the work that is already taking place in the communities of the 13th Judicial District. For example, staff members have participated in fundraising and awareness walks for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), and contributed to a drive for clothing and hygiene supplies for women in the emergency shelters Haven House and Valencia County Shelter Services and helped with food assistance and distribution through People Helping People. Staff members have “adopted” families in shelters for the holidays and some of our attorneys have volunteered as judges for high school mock trials. The Sandoval County Office annually supports Leadership Sandoval County at one of the largest community events in the district, the football game between rivals Rio Rancho and Cleveland High Schools with giveaways, informational presentations and community games led by the SWAT team.

We have also participated in parades and community awareness events hosted by many of our valued partners in the community such as Valencia County Shelter Services, Guardians of the Children Rio Grande Chapter, National Night Out sponsored by the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office, and the Los Lunas and Belen Rotary Clubs to name a few. Our offices have hosted Chamber of Commerce After Hours Open Houses in both Sandoval and Cibola Counties. Our hope is that in the not too distance future we will be able to do the same with the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce in our Cibola County Office.

Community Education in the Schools

With the new school year starting we have begun a new initiative with the schools. We have reached out to all the Principals in Middle and High Schools throughout the 13th Judicial District to initiate education programs in the schools presented by District Attorney Romo and other staff members on subjects of import to young people for example, Truancy, Consent, Bullying and Cyber Bullying, Sexting, Gangs, Assault, and Drinking and Driving. In the context of this program school officials let us know which topics would be the best for them, for the appropriate age group and what format will serve them best. In some cases, it may be a school-wide assembly, in others a classroom-by-classroom approach. One school in Los Lunas has already requested that addition to student presentations, they would like to include a parent’s night. We do not yet know what format a parent’s night will take. It may take the form of a town hall or something else entirely. Our intention is to serve the schools and the students in the manner which meets their needs. The schools take the lead.

This is a pilot program for us. Once we have a strong foothold, we hope to expand the offerings to Senior Centers, Veterans Groups and more. The Criminal Justice system is a series of interlocking partnerships and agencies just one of which is the District Attorney’s Office. So too does the D. A’s Office interlock in partnership within the communities we serve. The effectiveness of our partnership with the community cannot ride just on conviction rates though those too are of course important. The District Attorney’s Office sees the importance of our activities in terms of the impact on our neighborhoods and the necessity to adapt to the needs of our communities in whatever ways possible. This is the way in which we can invest in the communities in which we work and create meaningful impact one event, one school, one community at a time,

If your organization or school would like to partner with us on a community education and engagement program, please reach out to us by writing to

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By District Attorney Barbara Romo

I’d like to take this opportunity to explain why cases sometimes get dismissed after they have been referred to the DA’s Office. There are several types of dismissals and a variety of reasons why cases get dismissed. We rely heavily on our law enforcement partners to do complete and thorough investigations before submitting cases to our Office for prosecution.

As I have mentioned before, prosecutors are ministers of justice and as District Attorney, I am responsible for protecting the rights of all citizens in my district, whether they are victims or suspects. While law enforcement normally will submit a case that meets the elements required for probable cause, sometimes we need further investigation to make the case strong enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, which is our burden before the fact finder. These cases are sometimes dismissed “pending further investigation.” When a prosecutor dismisses a case it is called a nolle prosequi, which reflects the prosecutors’ discretion whether or not to prosecute. These dismissals are always “without prejudice” meaning we can and do re-file charges if and when the additional investigation is complete. On the other hand, sometimes a case will be submitted for prosecution which may meet all the requirements to allow us to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, but there is a constitutional violation such as a bad stop or bad search which precludes us ethically and legally from proceeding with prosecution. We try to use these instances as teaching moments to help our law enforcement partners understand and hopefully not make the same mistake again.

Another common reason why cases are dismissed, either by the Court or by the DA is lack of victim and/or witness cooperation. This is frequently the case in domestic violence cases where victims, for a variety of reasons, do not wish to continue with the prosecution of an offender. In other cases, key witnesses who may have given a statement to police during the initial investigation, make themselves unavailable to testify. This could be from fear of retaliation or due to a complicated familial relationship with the offender for example. When this happens, either the prosecutor or the judge will often decide to dismiss the case. If the judge dismisses the case s/he can either dismiss “with prejudice” or “without prejudice”, depending on the circumstances. If the judge dismisses “with prejudice” the prosecutor is legally precluded from refiling the charges—even if the witnesses decide to cooperate after the dismissal. Sometimes we will dismiss a case (Nolle) in magistrate court and present to the Grand Jury to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to district court. So, a dismissal or Nolle in magistrate court doesn’t necessarily mean the case will not be prosecuted. And, while our victim advocates work closely with victims and witnesses, we also have to keep in mind that forcing someone to testify might do more harm than good and I am always cognizant and wary of the potential of re-traumatizing victims and witnesses.

Finally, first time non-violent offenders are ordinarily given the chance to enter a diversion program, which if completed will result in a dismissal of the charges. This is an incentive to help individuals who have strayed off the legal path become productive citizens without the burden of a criminal record. Our Pre-prosecution Diversion Program assists these offenders by getting them counseling and other resources to help them deal with issues that led them to make the mistakes that got them in trouble with the law. These individuals also give back to the community with donations of clothes, food, school supplies etc. as well as participating in community service. The goal is to reduce crime by turning offenders into productive and engaged members of our community which in turn makes the community a better and safer place to live.


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.

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