ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico Republicans unveiled Wednesday a proposal aimed at changing how state judges decide who remains jailed before trial.
State Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said he will push a bill that would force judges to consider the seriousness of the suspect’s charge and criminal history when considering release.
The retired police officer said he will work with Democrats to come up with a bipartisan proposal to safeguard against violent defendants being released before trial.
“I think this change is necessary,” Rehm said. “As elected officials, we have an obligation to protect the public.”
The move comes after a state judge ordered a defendant charged in the 2016 killing and dismemberment of a 10-year-old Albuquerque girl to be released pending trial.
Fabian Gonzales has been in jail for more than three years in connection with the death of Victoria Martens. Court records show he faces charges of child abuse resulting in death and tampering with evidence.
Gonzales initially was accused of rape and murder in the death of Victoria Martens. But prosecutors later determined he wasn’t at the girl’s apartment when she was killed.
A judge earlier this month ruled Gonzales should be released because his two misdemeanor convictions from years ago and DWI did not qualify for pretrial detention.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez, the top prosecutor in the state’s busiest court district, announced in May he wanted lawmakers to tackle a similar proposal.
Torrez said the voter-approved system in place now has allowed for the release of violent and dangerous offenders.
Reforms sought by Rehm and Torrez would require judges to presume people charged with a limited range of serious felonies should remain jailed – unless defendants are able to make a successful case for their release.
That would represent a departure from the current system that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2016. It demands prosecutors who want a suspect detained to present evidence showing he or she poses a public safety threat.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said she has not decided if she will add the proposals to the agenda next legislative session, which will focus on budget matters. “The entirety of items to be addressed on the call is still developing,” Sackett said.