Chief justice praises state’s judiciary, defends bail system in speech

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Jan. 24—State Supreme Court Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon delivered the first State of the Judiciary address in four years Tuesday, telling a joint session of the House and Senate that New Mexico’s court system is “battered and bruised, strong, resilient, creative, committed and caring.”

In a session where crime legislation is already piling up at the Roundhouse, Bacon highlighted the rights of the accused in her approximately 30-minute speech, reminding lawmakers of the foundational ideals of the justice system.

“We all feel deep sorrow and fear when we read about a senseless death and other tragedies from crimes,” she said. “Yet we must remember why our Constitution protects the rights of every person, including those accused of crime. They are just that — accused, and presumed innocent in the eyes of the law.”

Bacon asked legislators to keep constitutional mandates in mind when considering proposed legislation and urged them to make decisions based on “verified data and facts” while keeping fiscal and human impacts in mind.

“Criminal justice reform, no matter what path you choose, is very expensive,” Bacon said.

The judicial branch is requesting $243 million for its general operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a 17% increase over its previous year’s budget of about $207 million, spokesman Barry Massey wrote in an email.

Even with the increase, the judiciary’s share of the state’s general fund will remain about 2.5%, where it has historically hovered.

“For every $1 spent on state government operations this year, 2.5 cents is to fund the court system,” Massey wrote.

Bacon highlighted efforts the Supreme Court has put into place to expedite criminal cases, including pilot projects at Bernalillo County’s Metro Court and Santa Fe Magistrate Court, which she said has greatly reduced the number of time-consuming preliminary hearings set in felony cases.

“The best deterrent of crime is swift justice,” she said.

Bacon championed the controversial elimination of money bail — passed in 2016 and targeted for additional tweaks ever since — as something that strengthened the judiciary’s ideals.

She said the measure made it more possible, not less, for judges to detain people who are a threat to public safety.

“Under the bail bond system, when someone was accused with a crime, including those we as a society label as the most dangerous, the accused was permitted to post a money bond,” she said. “This resulted in most criminal defendants being…

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