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THIRD JUDICIAL DISTRICT

District court adopts pretrial justice improvements

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Third Judicial District Court (Doña Ana County) will roll out a series of “pretrial justice improvements” in the next few weeks, the court said in a news release. The improvements include a pretrial services program and assessment of defendants, the news release said.

“It is vital our pretrial justice system makes deliberate, informed decisions throughout the process,” said Chief District Judge Manuel Arrieta. “These improvements will help us uphold the law, improve decision making and ensure community well-being and safety is strengthened.”

The Pretrial Services Planning Committee that recommended improvements includes: Third Judicial District and county magistrate judges; officials from the state Administrative Office of the Courts; the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office; the public defender’s office; the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office; the Doña Ana County Detention Center; the Doña Ana County Health and Human Services Department; and La Casa Inc., domestic violence prevention program.

Pretrial justice “upholds people’s rights when they are accused of a crime but presumed innocent,” the news release said. During the pretrial phase of a criminal court case, a judge must consider what the defendant needs to reasonably ensure that he or she will make future court appearances and remain arrest-free during the pretrial period.

Beginning June 29, Third Judicial District Court will implement a public safety assessment (PSA) and pretrial services program.

A PSA provides research-based information about defendants to judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. Courts are responsible for deciding whether to release defendants from custody while awaiting trial or detain them because no release conditions will reasonably protect the community. Judges must follow the law, using their experience and information presented by the defendant, prosecutor and defense attorney.

The PSA will offer additional information to help judges make more consistent, transparent decisions. It will estimate the likelihood of defendants attending future court hearings and remaining law-abiding while on pretrial release, and will help identify those who would benefit from additional services.

A pretrial services program will provide defendants on pretrial release with support services and supervision aimed at increasing court appearances and community safety. Pretrial staff will meet regularly with defendants, will provide court date reminders and will inform the court, district attorney and defense attorneys of any violations of defendants’ conditions of release.

“These pragmatic and comprehensive advancements to our pretrial system are the result of meaningful collaboration among justice system stakeholders, public health experts and victims’ advocates,” said District Attorney Gerald Byers, a Pretrial Services Planning Committee member. “These improvements will help our community achieve better pretrial outcomes.”

Improvements to New Mexico’s pretrial justice system in recent years have shifted from using money such as a financial bond as a condition of release, to a system that assesses a defendant’s likelihood of success – court appearances and law-abiding behavior – while on pretrial release. Research shows that using money as a release condition does not make communities safer or increase court appearance.

About New Mexico’s Pretrial Initiative

The pretrial initiative is supported both nationally and locally with technical assistance from the National Institute of Corrections, which promotes evidence-based practices that improve decision-making at the pretrial stage of the criminal justice system.

Visit advancingpretrial.org/psa/about/.