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DA hits back at report on crime, bail reform

Jan. 25—Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez is firing back after Legislative Finance Committee analysts released a report last week that found an "accountability gap" — low arrest, prosecution and conviction rates — may have contributed more to the crime problem in Bernalillo County than releasing defendants awaiting trial.

Torrez said the courts and the Legislature have repeatedly disregarded warnings from prosecutors and police "not to open a revolving door for violent criminals" and now, "to add insult to injury," the analysts "have produced an inaccurate report which seeks to blame those same frontline professionals for the very systemic failures we have fought so hard to prevent."

The report "is based on misinformation that is the product of incomplete data, flawed analysis and a troubling failure to ask obvious questions about fundamental changes to court procedure," Torrez said in a letter to the governor, several lawmakers and the LFC.

Jon Courtney, deputy director for program evaluators, said he had not received Torrez's response to the report until the Journal sent it to him. He said it surprised him.

"We've made repeated requests for information to the DA going back to November that have gone unanswered," Courtney said. "We sent our report to the DA a week before the hearing and followed up with a call. I personally reached out to him when I started reading things in the press, asking him to contact us with any specific concerns that he has."

Courtney said the analysts collaborated with the University of New Mexico's Institute for Social Research and a number of criminal justice agencies, and they had several Ph.D. researchers with expertise in statistics working on the project.

"We believe we did our due diligence insofar as reviewing the data and ensuring that it's accurate before publishing our memo," he said. "Nevertheless, we are willing to listen to criticisms, dig into that and learn more about the DA's concerns."

In the 19-page letter, Torrez took issue with many of the data points in last week's report — a memo providing a status update on crime in Bernalillo County, law enforcement and bail reform.

Torrez said his data shows that the conviction rate for violent felonies increased from 67.2% in 2017 to 78.5% in 2020. That is contrary to the LFC report, which said an analysis from the 2nd Judicial District Court found that the conviction rate for violent felonies had declined over the past decade and was 59% in 2020.

Torrez said the LFC analysts did not take into account cases that were dismissed in state court to be refiled in federal court or were dismissed so that defendants with multiple pending felonies could resolve their cases with a consolidated plea agreement.

Torrez disputed that his office declines 50% of violent felonies and dismisses 40% of the remaining violent felony cases.

He said that, in 2021, approximately 37% were declined and that, in two thirds of those instances, it was due to a lack of cooperation by victims or witnesses.

Torrez said the problem was exacerbated after the 2nd Judicial District Court began reducing grand jury time in favor of preliminary hearings — which means witnesses must take time off work or pay for day care in order to attend court.

Furthermore, he said that, when the analysts compared the conviction rate from 2011 to 2020, they were comparing "apples to oranges" and they understated the role of the Case Management Order, which imposes deadlines prosecutors must meet.

"The District Attorney's Office cannot be expected to achieve 2011's conviction rate today unless policymakers are prepared to return the system to the way it existed in 2011," Torrez wrote.

"One of many examples highlights a present system designed to promote procedural failure over trials on the merits."

As for the issue of pretrial detention, Torrez included graphs that showed there was a 15.6% recidivism rate among people who were released from jail pending trial, with 6.7% committing violent felonies.

He reiterated that this, of course, counts only those crimes that resulted in an arrest.

"As the Status Update rightly points out, crime reporting and clearance of reported crime are low nationally and in Bernalillo County," Torrez wrote. "Using national reporting figures for violent crimes, known violent crimes are approximately one-fifth of actual violent criminal incidents."

Online

Go to ABQJournal for the full LFC memo and the DA's response

Legislative Finance Committee memo on crime in Bernalillo County by Albuquerque Journal on Scribd

Response from DA Torrez to LFC memo by Albuquerque Journal on Scribd