New Santa Fe DA sets speedy trial, plea policies for drug possession | Local News


Newly sworn in District Legal professional Mary Carmack-Altwies has issued a slew of latest insurance policies she says will assist her ship on the marketing campaign guarantees that obtained her elected.

Crucial, she says, outlines a brand new manner of coping with felony drug possession prices.

Below her new coverage, first-time felony drug possession crimes shall be pleaded all the way down to misdemeanors in Justice of the Peace Courtroom earlier than they even make it to District Courtroom and defendants shall be supplied remedy or probation.

The one defendants who shall be tried for felony drug possession, she mentioned, are those that refuse a diversion or plea and ask for a jury trial.

“I ran as a progressive on the concept that we have to reform the felony justice system. And there are prosecutors everywhere in the nation doing issues on this method,” she mentioned. “We’ve acknowledged the conflict on medication has not labored and we’ve to do one thing about it. That is step certainly one of doing one thing about it.”

Along with serving to her make good on marketing campaign guarantees to deal with the general public well being disaster of dependancy, Carmack-Altwies mentioned the coverage will assist her workplace think about instances involving extra severe crimes.

Carmack-Altwies labored as a deputy district lawyer in control of the Particular Victims and Violent Crimes divisions below predecessor Marco Serna for about two years earlier than taking the helm in January, however she spent a lot of her earlier profession as a felony protection lawyer.

When she started transitioning to the top of the division, she collected information that confirmed about one-third of the workplace’s pending instances have been for possession of a managed substance.

“Thirty-three [percent] of all of the instances have been simply possessions,” generally coupled with related misdemeanors, she mentioned. “If we’re losing a 3rd of our time on possession instances, solely two-thirds of our time can [be committed] to probably the most violent crimes comparable to murder. I used to be shocked by what a excessive share it was.”

“We’ve to deal with these instances for what they’re,” she mentioned. “These folks want remedy, not punishment.”

In New Mexico, possession of an oz of marijuana or much less is a misdemeanor, however possession of any quantity of medicine comparable to methamphetamine, heroin or cocaine is a fourth-degree felony or above punishable by as much as 18 months of incarceration.

Carmack-Altwies mentioned the shift can even launch strain on the state crime lab, which she says has a 13-month backlog partially as a result of it’s having to check a whole bunch if not hundreds of things comparable to syringes and pipes for hint quantities of unlawful substances annually to ensure that prosecutors to pursue drug possession instances.

The district lawyer mentioned her coverage is not going to prolong to trafficking instances or folks caught with massive quantities of medicine.

“I nonetheless need to go after the true unhealthy guys,” she mentioned. “There shall be exceptions. It’s nonetheless against the law. I’m not saying it’s not. However we’re going to prosecute another way to see if that makes a distinction.”

Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur referred to as the transfer “ahead considering” and mentioned if achieved proper such initiatives can unlock cash that could be spent prosecuting instances addressing the foundation causes of dependancy.

Jennifer Burrill, vice chairman of the New Mexico Felony Protection Attorneys Affiliation, mentioned Carmack-Altwies’ new drug coverage is welcome.

“Making an attempt to get these folks sources as an alternative of placing them in jail is one thing we’ve been advocating for for a very long time,” she mentioned.

“We’re excited she’s taking these steps early in her administration,” mentioned Burrill, who works within the Santa Fe Workplace of the Public Defender. “I hope this works out. Clearly, there are some instances that don’t must plea, that ought to by no means have been filed within the first place, and we anticipate taking these to trial.”

Burrill mentioned the Public Defender’s Workplace is working to determine instances that might be resolved with a misdemeanor plea.

“For lots of people, that may be a superb supply,” Burrill mentioned.

Burrill mentioned it is going to be vital to catch the instances earlier than they’re certain over to District Courtroom as a result of its drug courtroom program usually takes about 18 months and the state solely has one 12 months of jurisdiction over folks convicted of misdemeanors.

Ideally, Burrill mentioned, many easy drug possession instances might be resolved in Justice of the Peace Courtroom with assist from Wellness Courtroom — additionally known as the Restorative Justice Initiative — a program developed previously few years that diverts defendants earlier than they’re convicted or take a plea.

This system — funded partially by Santa Fe County — helps defendants full duties comparable to getting a normal equivalency diploma or acquiring a driver’s license that give them a greater likelihood at staying out of the felony justice system.

Carmack-Altwies has additionally instituted new insurance policies associated to routine offender enhancements, plea offers and speedy trial issues.

The largest distinction between these insurance policies and that of Serna, her predecessor, is that they exist in written kind, Carmack-Altwies mentioned.

“There have been no plea insurance policies written down previously,” she mentioned. “There have been some form of normal insurance policies, however [my] concern was completely different prosecutors may deal with completely different instances otherwise. That is to ensure each defendant will get handled the identical.”

Carmack-Altwies mentioned she just lately went over a few of her new insurance policies with judges within the district so that they’ll know what to anticipate from the District Legal professional’s Workplace, together with a number of geared toward lowering the time it takes for instances to maneuver by the system.

Below her plea deal coverage, prosecutors are required to increase plea gives to protection attorneys inside 30 days of arraignment or “earlier each time potential.” Her new speedy trial coverage limits the circumstances below which prosecutors can conform to continuances and requires them to take instances to trial inside 9, 12 or 15 months after arraignment relying on their complexity.

“That’s to ensure we don’t have conditions like we did in Mondrian-Powell,” she mentioned, referring to a case that arose out of the 2016 loss of life of longtime librarian Elvira Segura, whose accused killer, Robert Mondrian-Powell, was launched from jail and had prices dismissed on the premise that his proper to a speedy trial had been violated after he’d spent 20 months in jail with out going to trial.

“I by no means, by no means, by no means need to see that occur in my administration,” Carmack-Altwies mentioned.


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