League Of Women Voters Endorses Constitutional Amendment One 2016 – Bail Bond Reform

By Dr. Meredith R. Machen, President
League of Women Voters of New Mexico

New Mexicans have the opportunity to make badlyneededchanges in the state’s antiquated bail bond system—-a system dating back to Pennsylvania state laws from the 1700s. 

In short, the amendment would give judges the power to keep dangerous, violent offenders in jail and the discretion to release poor non-violent offenders. In other words, release decisions would be based on criminal history, community threat and flight risk, not on ability to pay for a “get out jail” card.

The first part of the amendment says, “Bail may be denied by a court of record pending trial for a defendant charged with a felony if the prosecuting authority requests a hearing and proves by clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.”

Here are the problems with the current law.Judges now have no meaningful authority to deny bail to known, violent offenders. If an offender can come up with the money, that offender can walk.  Also, the law does not allow bond money to be forfeited for the commission of new crimes, no matter how awful. A defendant in a violent drug trafficking case might have millions to spend on bond.  At the same time, some 39 percent of inmates in our jails are there because they are too poor to obtain a cash bond, not because they are too dangerous. Taxpayers are feeding, housing and caring for those inmates to the tune of millions of dollars a year.

Studies show that pre-trial release on court-imposed conditions or unsecured bonds (personal recognizance bonds with a monetary amount set) for defendants who pose no real threat to the community work well. They can minimize flight risk and prevent commission of new crimes just as well as bonds that require advance payment.

The second part of the amendment states, “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.”

Bond schedules that result in detaining otherwise releasable, low-risk defendants just because they cannot afford to post a money bond have been repeatedly held by federal courts to be unlawful under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the US Constitution.  

Both chambers of the New Mexico Legislature voted unanimously to make this update to the State Constitution. If voters approve this long-overdue solution, New Mexico will not bereinventing the wheel. Federal courts, the District of Columbia, and a number of other states have similar pretrial detention authority for dangerous defendants who threaten public safety.

The League of Women Voters of New Mexico endorses this constitutional amendment along with the NM District Attorneys’ Association, NM Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the New Mexico Association of Counties, the ABQ Chamber of Commerce, and others.

If passed, bail bond reform will make our communities safer by keeping dangerous defendants off the streets, will release those who do not merit incarceration, and will save taxpayers money by freeing up expensive jail space. We urge you to vote in favor of Amendment One.