- Pretrial interviews help get to the truth and have exonerated many people who were wrongly charged with crimes.
- Bernalillo County DA Raul Torrez's proposal to eliminate pretrial interviews is an assault on civil liberties.
- Interviewing all witnesses to a crime is perhaps one of the most important ways to ascertain justice and truth.
- Torrez has got it all wrong, the evidence should be vetted in pretrial interviews long before the criminal trial begins.
BY Dennis Maez / United States Secret Service, Special Agent in Charge (Ret.); Former Albuquerque Police Detective; Private Investigator
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez has got it all wrong on pretrial interviews of victims of crimes. Pretrial victim interviews are an essential civil right of the accused.
Ascertaining the truth is the most important job in criminal justice. Convicting an innocent person is the greatest tragedy in criminal justice. Interviewing all witnesses to a crime is perhaps one of the most important ways to ascertain justice and truth. Mr. Torrez’s proposal to eliminate pretrial interviews will result in a more over-burdened and chaotic criminal justice system, and innocent people will be wrongfully convicted.
Case in point: The Office of the District Attorney charged Kalani Hodges, a 16 year old teen, with the Attempted Murder of another teen, Vicente Sanchez. APD made several public statements, calling Kalani Hodges a “stone cold killer.” (Statement by Simon Drobik, June 30, 3019 KRQE) Yet at the pretrial “victim” interview I learned that Vicenete Sanchez actually was the aggressor, Kalani Hodges was the victim. At my pretrial interview, Vicenete Sanchez admitted he met Kalani Hodges to rob him. Vicenete Sanchez admitted he pulled a gun on Kalani Hodges and put it to Kalani Hodges’ head. Vicente Sanchez was about to shoot Kalani Hodges when another man shot Vicenete Sanchez. None of this would have been learned without the pretrial interview.
Lesson learned: the District Attorney’s “victim” is not always the victim!
Also, at the pretrial interview, the “victim,” Vicente Sanchez, stated he never saw Kalani Hodges with a gun, he had no reason to think Kalani Hodges had a gun. Yet, the District Attorney not only charged Kalani Hodges with Attempted Murder, but also with Minor in Possession of a Firearm. One may argue that Vicente Sanchez simply “changed his story.” But independent witnesses support the version of events that incriminate Vicenete Sanchez and exonerate Kalani Hodges. The police failed to interview these witnesses, but they were interviewed by myself and the lawyers in pretrial interviews. One witness, during a pretrial interview, said he saw Vicente Sanchez hand his gun to a friend, who hid it.
Its very sad for all involved, but that’s what happened, the truth came to light as a result of a “victim” pretrial interview. None of this would have been learned under District Attorney Raul Torrez’s proposal to eliminate victim pretrial interviews.
As a former police officer, retired federal agent and now private investigator for attorneys in criminal cases, I know for a fact that victim pretrial interviews are an essential element in finding the truth. I know, first hand, from both sides of the system victim interviews exonerate the innocent and confirm evidence against the guilty. This saves our overburdened courts considerable time and money. Trials are expensive. A pretrial interview can facilitate a guilty plea. Mr. Torrez has got it all wrong, the evidence should be vetted in pretrial interviews long before the criminal trial begins.
I see examples like this every day. I have many personal experiences of the need for victim pretrial interviews. I have a loved one who was accused of a serious crime that could have resulted in a life sentence, but due in part to the pretrial interviews, the truth was revealed and he was exonerated. There are many examples of how victim pretrial interviews resolve cases long before trial. Victim interviews can also facilitate a guilty plea, thus saving a victim of a violent crime the anguish of trial testimony. I’ve witnessed this first hand when a pretrial interview results in the undeniable fact that a defendant is guilty.
District Attorney Torrez, don't further erode our civil rights, don’t take any the most important tool we have to ascertain the truth and justice for all.