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Las Cruces Homeless Problem

You get what you vote for.

In 2016, an amendment to the New Mexico Constitution was proposed by the legislature and put to the voters. The amendment had the appearance of being a crime fighting tool that would keep violent offenders off the street by denying them bail, while also appeasing the bleeding heart liberals by allowing persons arrested for non-violent crimes to be released without bond. It passed overwhelmingly in November 2016.

Remember what your parents used to tell you growing up, that you can't have your cake and eat it, too?

Many many liberal journalists throughout the state supported this amendment. They wrote articles and editorials telling their readers that we needed to stop this very bad practice of keeping people locked up just because they cannot afford bail, and that voting for the amendment was a win-win since it also gave judges the power to keep dangerous criminals locked up without bail. Except they left out some small details.

Judges already had the authority to deny bail. In 1980, the New Mexico Legislature passed a law that gave judges the authority to deny bail to a defendant who was accused of a felony with two prior felonies in the state OR the defendant was accused of a felony with a deadly weapon and had at least one prior felony conviction within the state. If there were no prior felony convictions a judge set a bond relative to the crime. How many crooks in jail for shooting, stabbing or robbing someone can afford $100,000 bail? None that I ever put handcuffs on, and all they had to post was 10%.

In 2014, and this is what led to the 2016 proposal to amend the NM Constitution, the NM Supreme Court found, in State v. Brown, that a district court had set a high bond based solely on the charges against the defendant and suspected that other district courts had done the same in the past. The court recommended that language in the constitution be amended. The Chief of the NM Supreme Court said that he wanted to reform the "freedom for money" system that requires judges to decide between protecting the community versus following laws that guide bail procedure (Brown was jailed for murder and other charges in 2011 with bond set at $250,000. He had an IQ of about 70. After being locked up for two years awaiting trial he petitioned the court to be released under the pretrial services program. The court denied that request. It went to the NM Supreme Court and the high court determined that the district court erred. They ordered Brown released. Ultimately, the charges against Brown were dismissed in 2017 because his right to a speedy trial had been violated).

In a case of murder, I personally don't consider a bond of $250K to be excessive. Isn't it the job of a district court judge to consider the nature of the felony and set bond accordingly? Shouldn't people arrested for violent felonies have considerably higher bonds than non-violent offenders?

The original wording in the 2016 proposed constitutional amendment was supported by the ACLU and the NM Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, but opposed by the Bail Bond Association of NM. Here is the original wording:

"A person who is not a danger and is otherwise eligible for bail shall not be detained solely because of financial inability to post a money or property bond."

That final version was revised, leaving it to the courts to determine whether a defendant could be released without bail. The ACLU and NMCDLA did not support the revised version, but the Bail Bonds Association did:

"A person who is not detainable on grounds of dangerousness nor a flight risk in the absence of bond and is otherwise eligible for bail shall not be detained solely because of financial inability to post a money or property bond. A defendant who is neither a danger nor a flight risk and who has a financial inability to post a money or property bond may file a motion with the court requesting relief from the requirement to post bond. The court shall rule on the motion in an expedited manner."

This amendment created more problems than it solved. Homeless people are indigent, but many are mentally ill, violent and compound their personal problems with the use of drugs and alcohol. One of the arguments supporting the amendment in 2016 was that counties were spending vast amounts of money on jail budgets just to keep people locked up pending trial and passing the proposal would mean a reduction in those costs. Baloney. Factor in the cost to business owners for damage done to their properties and the security that they are forced to hire, and the customers lost because people do not want to shop in an area rife with homeless people whom they see as dangerous.

People who commit crimes, homeless or not, need to be held accountable. Bail was never intended to punish; its sole purpose is to ensure that the defendant appear at trial to answer the charges. What is so drastically harmful in keeping a homeless person who cannot afford bail locked up? The reality is that they have three hot meals per day, a bunk to sleep on, showers, clean clothes to wear and free legal representation. Releasing them because of indigence is unrealistic. Think they are going to show for trial? Most couldn't even tell you what month it is, much less the date.

If one wants to argue the cost to society, face this reality: one way or another we are going to pay, so wiser to expend money protecting citizens who pay taxes.


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