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Federal Court Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging NM Bail Reform

A federal court judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit by the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico that challenged the state's system of pretrial release and detention of criminal defendants.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert A. Junell said the Bail Bond association basically didn't have standing to file the lawsuit and that the U.S. and New Mexico constitutions say that "excessive bond shall not be required" of criminal defendants.

The bondsmen had argued that the state's new bail reforms would hurt their business because state judges are letting defendants out on small bonds or with no bonds at all.

The judge's ruling cited the federal Bail Reform Act of 1966 which emphasized that the U.S. Constitution guaranteed that criminal defendants shall not be subject to excessive bail. In 1972, New Mexico changed its bail requirements to meet that 1966 federal law.

"The court is of the opinion that there is no provision in the 1972 rules, or any other source of law, guaranteeing the option of money bail to criminal defendants in New Mexico," Judge Junell wrote in his opinion. "Plaintiffs do not site a single … bail case mandating monetary bail, let alone one finding that non-monetary conditions cannot be utilized by a judicial officer when considering the pretrial release of a criminal defendant.

"Criminal defendants have never been guaranteed the option of monetary bail under New Mexico law in existence before or after the 2017 rules."

Here's the New Mexico Supreme Court's news release on the ruling:

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging reforms to New Mexico’s system of pretrial release and detention of criminal defendants.

“The federal court ruling recognizes the lawfulness of New Mexico's bail reform efforts to better protect public safety and improve the fairness of the state’s pretrial justice system,” said Artie Pepin, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

“The commercial bail industry's lawsuit sought to force our state to go back to a money-based bail system that released dangerous defendants who could buy a bail bond while jailing non-dangerous defendants simply for lack of money,” Pepin said on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert A. Junell issued the ruling on Monday against a lawsuit brought by the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico, several legislators and an Albuquerque woman who was charged with aggravated assault.

The lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of procedural rules adopted by the Supreme Court in July to govern pretrial release and detention decisions. The court rules carry out a constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2016, which allows district court judges to lawfully hold felony defendants in jail before trial if they are shown to be too dangerous for release. The amendment also ensures that defendants who are not dangerous or a flight risk cannot be held in jail pretrial solely because they cannot afford a bail bond.

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