SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The state Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court decision allowing the no-bail pretrial release of an 19-year-old with no prior criminal history who is accused of a string of residential burglaries in Albuquerque.
The ruling rebuffs public prosecutors who say risks to the community in the case linking as many as 80 nighttime burglaries in homes where people slept can’t be mitigated by electronic tracking devices and supervision.
Justice Michael Vigil announced the court’s decision following oral arguments Friday and an hour of private deliberations by the high court.
“The state failed to argue or prove … that no conditions of release will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community,” Vigil said. “The court will affirm the decision” of the district court.
The latest clash over New Mexico’s no-money bail system focused on Jesse Mascareno-Haidle, who was released from detention in February pending trial and now wears a tracking device amid school attendance and drug test requirements.
New Mexico’s no-money bail system was initiated by statewide vote in 2016 and implemented in 2017. It’s unclear whether the changes have led to fewer or more offenses by defendants during the pretrial stage or better compliance with release conditions because of limited tracking by government authorities. District attorneys late last year began recording the portion of pretrial detention motions that are granted.
Mascareno-Haidle has pleaded not guilty to charges of burglary, larceny, taking a motor vehicle and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Prosecutors have said investigators linked Mascareno-Haidle to as many as 80 residential burglaries in Albuquerque and possibly in Los Lunas over a seven-month period beginning in July. Some involved stolen cars and juvenile accomplices.
Prosecutors asserted that dangers are being overlooked in the decision to release the defendant. Requests for his pretrial detention were repeatedly rejected by lower courts.
In oral arguments Friday, the Bernalillo County district attorney’s office said district courts should be giving greater weight to “serial unlawfulness” and burglary as a potentially violent crime when determining whether defendants can be released pending trial.
Prosecutor James Grayson also asserted that district courts are mistakenly basing bail decisions on prior violations of release terms — letting potentially dangerous first-time defenders off the hook because they have never skipped out on a trial.
The state Law Offices of the Public Defender said a district court judge acted reasonably in releasing Mascareno-Haidle given his compliance with investigators and extensive terms of release. Public defender Noah Gelb urged the Supreme Court not to tie the hands of lower court judges as they consider the dangers and conditions of pretrial release.
Responding to the ruling, Gelb said in a statement that “this case shows that judges can make decisions that protect the community and safeguard individual liberty.”
Prosecutors say Mascareno-Haidle has acknowledged participation in 21 burglaries, though defense attorneys are reviewing whether the interrogations infringed on constitutional rights.
Court documents in the case include little or no data about the effectiveness of a pretrial release system that uses a complex assessment of flight risk, nor an analysis of how a ruling might influence outcomes.
In court filings, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez has said the burglaries in question were so inherently dangerous and defiant that pre-trial detention would be justified for Mascareno-Haidle.
Under current law, prosecutors must prove that no release conditions will reasonably protect the community in order to keep defendants incarcerated.
Public defenders have said that jailing Mascareno-Haidle pending trial would undermine a system that tailors conditions of release to the situation of individual defendants.
The dispute over bail procedures takes place amid divergent trends in crime in Albuquerque, where police are under public pressure to implement more effective and humane enforcement tactics.
Reports to police of overall crime and property crime declined in 2020 amid the pandemic that kept many people at home, while reports of violent crime increased.
Homicides in Albuquerque are setting a record pace this year with 42 as of May 1. The deadliest year for homicides was 2019 with 80, and there were 76 in 2020.
Concerns about crime and policing in Albuquerque are spilling over into a special congressional election on June 1. Last year, then-President Donald Trump deployed federal agents to Albuquerque and other Democratic-led cities where he decried unchecked violence.