By agreeing to a handful of changes to the nearly 3-yearold " case management order" it imposed on the 2 nd Judicial District, the state Supreme Court has shown a willingness to listen to, and act upon, recommendations by defense lawyers, public defenders, prosecutors and others involved in the judicial system.
That flexibility bodes well for any future adjustments the order might need and, hopefully, for its eventual dismissal.
The case management order, or CMO, was put in place in February 2015 to speed up the adjudication of backlogged criminal cases in the 2 nd Judicial District, which covers Bernalillo County, and to address overcrowding at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
The CMO set strict deadlines for prosecutors to arraign defendants, turn over evidence and bring cases to trial. Unfortunately, the tight deadlines led to numerous case dismissals that some observers say has contributed to the metro-area's burgeoning crime rate.
At the urging of many in the criminal justice system, the state Supreme Court has amended the CMO. A summary of the changes includes:
An additional five days for initial disclosure of evidence when a defendant is in custody.
An additional five days for prosecutors to arraign a defendant who is not in custody.
Trials for complex cases can be delayed 60 days, other cases can be delayed 45 days upon a showing of good cause. ( Previous extensions were limited to 30 days. )
Requirements and notices for requesting witness interviews are set.
No sanctions for prosecutors if a failure to transport a defendant wasn't the prosecutor's fault.
Prosecutors can re-file the same charges without new probable cause determination after a case was voluntarily dismissed by prosecutors or dismissed by a judge without prejudice.
District Attorney Raúl Torrez says he welcomes the changes but, like others in the judicial system, notes that without additional money, it will still be difficult to meet even the extended deadlines in some cases.
That's a valid point: Without additional police officers, public defenders, prosecutors, specialty court personnel and data-driven programs, streamlining the county's judicial system will remain a challenge.
With last week's projections by state economists that New Mexico could see nearly $200 million in " new money" for the coming fiscal year because of an improving economy, state legislators should put these needs at the top of their funding list.
Here's why: Last year, New Mexico had the highest per capita property crime rate in the nation, and the second-highest per capita rate of violent crime. Metro Albuquerque, a key driver of those disturbing statistics, had the highest per-capita rate of auto theft in the nation, with more than 10,000 vehicles stolen. And Albuquerque has had more than 70 homicides this year, the most since 1996.
Any way you look at it - as a crime victim; as a child in a violent home; as a relative of a drug addict; as a taxpayer funding jails, the court system and federally mandated police reforms - we have a crime crisis on our hands that demands immediate attention and resources.
The case management order, new crime-fighting techniques, prosecuting the " worst of the worst" offenders, police reforms and community policing - and especially the Legislature - all have their role in reducing our untenable crime rate.
As new Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has noted, there is no magic bullet here. But the type of cooperation that has led to a needed revision of the CMO is an encouraging sign that, finally, everyone is getting to the same page.