A look at anti-crime measures proposed in New Mexico

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Posted: Jan 25, 2016 7:16 PM
A look at anti-crime measures proposed in New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A push is underway in New Mexico to lengthen prison terms and let judges deny bail. The agenda is reminiscent of a wave of 1990s anti-crime laws that some states are now reversing.

Here's a look at some of the measures up for debate:

BAIL REFORM

A constitutional amendment to reform New Mexico's bail bond system is the only measure to garner sweeping bipartisan endorsements so far.

Democratic and Republican leadership, judges, the governor and the bail bond industry support a component of the bill that would let judges deny bail to high-risk suspects considered a danger to the public as they await trial.

The state constitution guarantees people the opportunity to get out of jail before trial, with the narrow exception of those accused of the most serious felonies. Critics say that routinely allows violent defendants out on the streets.

Another provision in the bail amendment proposed in the Senate would adjust New Mexico law to grant pretrial release to cash-strapped suspects of nonviolent crimes who lack the money to make bail. It's part of a national movement away from cash bonds and toward analytics and risk-based decisions.

The section has received mixed support, and the bail bond industry strongly opposes it.

In the House, a version of the proposed amendment drafted by a Republican lawmaker drops language proposing pre-trial release without bond for low-risk suspects who don't have the means to make bail. It went before House lawmakers for its first committee vote Monday and won approval 4-3 on party lines.

Legislation in New Jersey that would allow judges to deny bail to dangerous defendants and waive bail for indigent, non-violent suspects awaiting trial was approved by voters and signed by GOP presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie two years ago.

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THREE STRIKES

A proposal would add more violent felonies to the list of crimes that make habitual offenders with three or more convictions eligible for life sentences.

Members of the law enforcement community have criticized the state's current version of the law. They say it's so narrow that no one has been convicted under the law since it took effect two decades ago.

The change is being proposed after California eased its three-strikes law, once the nation's toughest and partly blamed for overcrowded prisons. U.S. lawmakers are considering reducing life sentences for three drug-related crimes under the federal three-strikes law.

Rep. Paul Pacheco, an Albuquerque Republican and former police officer, has stressed that his bill would affect only violent criminals.

The mother of 4-year-old Lilly Garcia, who authorities say was in the back seat of her father's pickup truck when she was shot and killed on Interstate 40 during a road-rage fight, has voiced support for the bill.

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POLICE SHOOTINGS

Rep. Nate Gentry, an Albuquerque Republican and the House Majority leader, has proposed making targeted assaults on officers punishable under the state's hate crimes law.

The measure comes amid intense outrage over shootings by police nationwide, and as Albuquerque police are under federal oversight because of a U.S. Justice Department investigation that found a pattern of excessive force.

Some Democrats question whether classifying attacks on police as hate crimes is the right approach to deterring assaults on officers.

State law currently adds prison time for crimes motivated by prejudice based on race, sexual orientation, disability, gender, age or ancestry.

Gentry said it became clear over the summer and fall that "our protectors need additional protection" — a clear reference to last year's shooting deaths of Rio Rancho police officer Gregg Benner and Albuquerque officer Daniel Webster. Both were killed during traffic stops by men with extensive criminal histories.

Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes linked to extremist groups, said he isn't aware of any states that apply hate crime laws to attacks on police.

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MANDATORY MINIMUMS

A proposed mandatory-minimum sentencing measure would bar judges from suspending or deferring more than 15 percent of a sentence for voluntary manslaughter, first-degree kidnapping, assault on an officer, or drive-by shooting convictions.

The bill introduced by Pacheco runs counter to legislative proposals in Congress that would ease mandatory-minimum sentencing requirements for some nonviolent, drug-related crimes.