Prosecutor urges public to demand change to bail rules

More than a year has passed and the state supreme court still has not addressed concerns raised by district attorneys in New Mexico citing the need for amendments.

With the Supreme Court of New Mexico affirming the 12th Judicial District Court decision to grant bail to a man accused of killing his 2-year-old son, District Attorney John Sugg, who had appealed the original bail decision, issued a statement saying it is time people demand a change.

Richard A. Soto, 33

“The courts have failed to act and it’s time for the people to step up and demand change,” he said. “It is time to amend the amendment” to the state constitution passed in 2016 by voters.

“I served as the New Mexico District Attorneys’ Association’s representative on the Supreme Court’s committee that addresses the pretrial release rules,” Sugg said. “The courts have had almost two years to implement common sense, community safety measures that would protect your family and mine. New Mexico is the only state in the country where there is not a presumption of detention for 1st-degree murder. Not coincidentally, we are also consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous states in the country.

“During the last year, I have seen child pornographers, rapists, child molesters, armed robbers, and killers walk out of jails across the state after the prosecution had presented up to four hours of testimony regarding the dangerousness of a defendant. The overwhelming majority of these opinions have been upheld at the appellate level, including the most recent (Ricardo) Soto decision.”

A year ago, the NMDAA sent a letter to Chief Justice Judith Nakamura asking the state Supreme Court to review the pretrial release rules.

“As the 2018 legislative session was approaching, the Supreme Court began the process of reviewing the rules to consider amendments to address the concerns raised by NMDAA,” Sugg said. “Here we are nearly a year later and the Court has failed to act to address the obvious shortcomings in the rules. It has become apparent that the goal of telling the public to be patient while the courts develop case law interpreting the rules is merely a ploy to placate everyone until the latest public outrage dies down and then nothing changes.

District Attorney John Sugg said state constitutional amendment must be amended for community safety.

“Our pretrial release amendment adopted by voters in 2016, was allegedly modeled after the federal Bail Reform Act which was implemented over 30 years ago. We have 30 years of federal jurisprudence that we as a state have largely ignored. One needs to look no further than the recent Taos compound case where a state district court judge ordered the release of five people charged with nearly a dozen counts of child abuse. Those same defendants were held by the federal court when the U.S. Attorney’s Office brought weapons charges against them. If our new pretrial release system is supposed to be modeled after the federal bail system, why does the federal court hold the same dangerous defendants we release?”

In a letter to Dean Leo M. Romero, chairman of the Ad Hoc Pretrial Release Committee, Sugg wrote on Aug. 1, that three principal concerns surround the amendment: the rule has been interpreted by district court judges as requiring a mini-trial and serving as a discovery tool for the defense, which imposed an undue strain on prosecutorial resources and created a chilling effect in seeking detention of dangerous offenders; district court judges had transformed basic a procedural requirement in the rule into arbitrary obstacles to a hearing on the merits of pretrial detention; and the assessment of dangerousness and community safety was highly unreliable, because district judges had failed to afford adequate weight to the nature and circumstances of the underlying charges.

In asking that Soto be held without bail, Sugg pointed out that Soto initially fled the jurisdiction after his son’s death from apparent head trauma.

“The state filed an expedited motion for pretrial detention seeking to hold the defendant without bond,” Sugg wrote in his appeal petition. The motion was heard on July 3, the district court took the matter under advisement and later denied the motion on July 10. No hearing was held to set the defendant’s conditions of release and the state did not have an opportunity to present evidence related to the defendant being a flight risk, he wrote.

The judge held that Soto had substantial family and job-related connections to the community.

Sugg appealed on Aug. 14, noting the that rules required a hearing to determine conditions of release.

“The state maintains that the evidence presented at (a July 10 hearing) demonstrates that (Soto) is a danger to the community and that no condition, or combinations of conditions, will reasonable protect the community,” Sugg wrote, adding that Soto is “an extreme flight risk.”