Come November, voters will have the opportunity to vote in favor of a constitutional amendment which will give judges the ability to keep dangerous criminals in jail without bail pending trial and also allow for the release of defendants who don’t pose a danger to society, but do not have the financial resources to post bail. Senate Joint Resolution 1 (SJR1) made its way through both houses of the 2016 Legislature after a hard fought compromise with opponents of the legislation and must now be approved by voters before the state’s constitution can be amended.
Last week the Chamber joined with the New Mexico Association of Counties and others to form the Committee for Smarter Justice, a group which will publicly advocate for the passage of this critical constitutional amendment. Susan Griffin, County Assessor in Catron County, will serve as the Committee Chairman and Nick Leger, San Miguel County Commissioner, will serve as Treasurer.
“I have had a passion for this amendment since Justice Daniels first proposed it,” said Griffin. “I do believe we would all be negligent if we didn’t make every effort possible to see a successful outcome in November. I don’t want to wake up November 9th kicking myself for not working harder.”
New Mexico State Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels, the chief architect of the amendment, told the Chamber’s Board of Directors during a presentation in December that there were two serious failings of what he called a “freedom for money” bail system—dangerous people with access to money often have the ability to get out of jail and, in their quest to catch “sharks” by setting bail beyond a defendant’s reach, judges often “snare people who aren’t dangerous.”
It was at that meeting that the Chamber’s Board voted in favor of supporting the amendment to the state’s constitution. The organization staunchly supported it during the 2016 Legislative Session.
Chamber President and CEO Terri Cole said the change makes sense from both a taxpayer and public safety perspective. “Taxpayers shouldn’t bear the burden of providing for a non-dangerous defendant in jail simply because the defendant can’t pay a few hundred dollars in bail,” said Cole. “Similarly, a dangerous person shouldn’t be allowed back into the public while they await trial because they do have access to financial resources.”
The Committee for Smarter Justice will work in the coming weeks to build organizational and voter support for the amendment and to help voters understand the positive implications of its approval. Statewide, several organizations have already taken a formal position in support of the reforms contained in SJR1 including: NM District Attorneys’ Association, NM Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Criminal Justice Reform Policy Committee of the New Mexico Association of Counties.