Making Democracy Work

Los Alamos Voter Guide 2016: Constitutional Amendments

Constitutional Amendments

Proposed Constitutional Amendment 1:

The proposed amendment came from a joint resolution of the New Mexico Legislature. The following summary is intended to help voters decide whether to vote for or against the amendment, which requires a simple majority to be approved. For background information and more complete analyses, please see Constitutional Amendments 2016, on NMLEGIS (PDF).

"PROPOSING AN AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE 2, SECTION 13 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF NEW MEXICO TO PROTECT COMMUNITY SAFETY BY GRANTING COURTS NEW AUTHORITY TO DENY RELEASE ON BAIL PENDING TRIAL FOR DANGEROUS DEFENDANTS IN FELONY CASES WHILE RETAINING THE RIGHT TO PRETRIAL RELEASE FOR NON-DANGEROUS DEFENDANTS WHO DO NOT POSE A FLIGHT RISK."

Approximately 40 percent of defendants incarcerated in New Mexico are awaiting trials to determine their innocence or guilt. Defendants post bail to guarantee their appearance in court. Defendants who fail to appear lose the money they have posted. The proposed amendment would allow bail to be denied for a person charged with a felony who is awaiting trial if the evidence shows that the person poses a threat to the public. It would also guarantee that an accused person who is neither a danger nor a flight risk is not held in jail before trial simply because he lacks bail money.

Arguments For

1. Allows judges to keep dangerous defendants off the streets.

Judges could deny release to dangerous defendants who pose a threat to public safety. The proposed amendment would give judges the power to keep those who need to remain behind bars away from the community.

2. Allows release of people who do not pose a threat.

Many defendants incarcerated in New Mexico jails do not pose a danger to the community or a flight risk, but are held simply because they cannot afford bail. Being held in jail has significant negative impacts on defendants and on their families. Moreover, in states that have enacted reforms similar to the proposed amendment, there has been no corresponding negative impact on public safety.

3. Cost savings to counties.

Holding large numbers of people pending trial imposes substantial costs on the counties, which house the vast majority of these defendants. Some counties have spent up to half of their budgets on jails and correctional officers.

4. Protection of basic constitutional rights.

It is a fundamental right since the founding of this nation that people are innocent until proven guilty, and thus the state should have to prove why a defendant should remain incarcerated before any finding of guilt.

Arguments Against

1. Bond may encourage defendants to appear in court.

A defendant released without a bail bond has less financial incentive to appear in court.

2. Has possible negative impact on the bail bonding industry.

The proposed amendment could reduce fees collected by bail bondsmen from defendants.

3. May lead to the pre-trial release of more defendants.

Any defendant who is released before trial could commit additional crimes.