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

Updated: Apr 27, 2021


Prosecutors have a great deal of discretion. The decisions we make can change a person’s life, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. People are not perfect and they make mistakes. The duty of the prosecutor is to do justice. But what does that mean? Well certainly it can mean different things to different people but I believe keeping in mind these two important facts provide the best chance of fulfilling this sacred duty of a prosecutor. It might surprise some to know that prosecutors are responsible for protecting the rights of the accused as well as the victims. The office of the District Attorney does not investigate crimes. Law enforcement agencies investigate crimes and sometimes make arrests with charges in the form of a criminal complaint. It is at this point that the District Attorney’s office gets involved. It is imperative that each case brought to the District Attorney is evaluated on its own merit. It is the sole discretion of the District Attorney whether to move forward with prosecution. This discretion must be exercised carefully and wisely. During my 20 plus years as a prosecutor, I have evaluated literally thousands of cases. I rejected a large percentage of those cases for prosecution. Many factors are considered when deciding whether or not to prosecute a case. Of course, the conduct must be criminal as violating one of our statutes. Other factors are the age of the accused, the severity of the crime, the criminal history or lack thereof, the wishes of the family and victims, the impact on the community, underlying issues such as addiction, lack of job skills, and ability and willingness to be rehabilitated. This is a non exhaustive list of some of the things a prosecutor should consider when evaluating a case. These decisions are not always easy—nor should they be. But only with years of experience does a prosecutor develop the ability to make the tough calls of when and if and how to prosecute any given case. Factors which should NEVER play a part in the evaluation are race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation of the accused or the victim. Likewise, if the rights of the accused have been violated during the course of the apprehension or investigation by law enforcement—whether intentionally or not—the District Attorney should consider very carefully whether or not to prosecute. More importantly, if such instances occur, there must be an open and frank discussion with the leadership of the law enforcement agency to ensure all parties understand what went wrong and to take corrective steps to prevent such incidents in the future. This requires an established relationship of mutual respect and cooperation with the District Attorney and law enforcement. The District Attorney does not control or supervise the police. Nonetheless, we do share a common goal of serving and protecting our community. In that regard, I will continue to work closely with the leadership in each of the law enforcement agencies throughout the district to establish and maintain a philosophy and practice that will absolutely not tolerate instances of abuse and misconduct such as what the world witnessed in Minneapolis with the killing of Mr. Floyd. All of us—starting with me, as your District Attorney, the Chiefs of Police, and the Sheriffs must stand together in unity to condemn any acts of abuse or misconduct by police or prosecutors. With one voice we will declare “Not on my watch!”



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Updated: May 14, 2021


Specialty courts have become a popular and viable alternative to incarceration for many who find themselves involved in the criminal justice system after committing low level crimes. These courts are designed to address specific needs and issues that have made individuals turn to crime who otherwise may not have done so. For example, many are familiar with Drug Court, which is designed to assist those with substance abuse problems in a way that ordinary probation and parole cannot.


Another population group that can benefit immensely from a specialty court is veterans. Veterans—particularly combat veterans— return home necessarily affected by their experiences. Many suffer from post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and this can lead to problems with relationships, employment difficulties, homelessness, and substance abuse in efforts to self-medicate. One in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment. One in six veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from a substance abuse disorder.[1]


Veterans Courts have been introduced in communities throughout New Mexico to address the specific needs of Veterans who find themselves facing criminal charges. The goal of Veterans Courts is to restore veterans to being successful, contributing members of the community. The Court focuses on ensuring that veterans entering the criminal justice system make contact with specific programs to address the root causes of the behavior that resulted in the veteran becoming a defendant in the criminal justice system. These Courts are supervised by judges and in addition to a coordinator, representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, criminal defense attorneys, probation and parole, and mental health professionals participate. Here veterans are given a safe space to discuss and deal with issues that are unique to those who have bravely served our country. These are individuals who were once law abiding and productive members of our community who have lost their way. The vast majority of them want to return to a law- abiding lifestyle but do not know how to do so or lack the tools and resources. Veterans Courts assist these individuals by giving them those tools and resources. Not only is incarceration for these veterans ineffective, we are doing these brave men and women a disservice by not properly addressing the issues that underlie their criminal behavior, especially given the fact that they developed these issues as a result of having volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the freedoms we all hold dear.


Currently efforts are underway to create a Veterans Court in the 13th District. There are approximately 1,700 veterans in Cibola County, 13,000 veterans in Sandoval County, and 6,000 veterans in Valencia County. As a veteran myself, and married to a combat veteran for 33 years, this issue is critically important to me, and as your District Attorney, I am working to help establish a Veterans Court in the 13th Judicial District. We owe our veterans a debt that cannot ever be truly repaid and this is the least we can do to help them return to the best version of themselves possible. This in turn makes our community a better, safer place for everyone.


[1] According to Military.com

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