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Lawmakers Say Some Petty Crimes Deserve Only Tickets

Highways England via CC

New Mexico’s criminal justice system gets clogged. The courts, the public prosecutors and defenders, they’ve all said they don’t have enough money or staff to process cases fast enough. Growing backlogs, people and details falling through the cracks—those complaints are common. Lawmakers are weighing a bill that would pull minor offenses out of the court system.

The lowest, most petty crimes on the books. That’s how state Rep. Antonio Maestas describes the misdemeanors he wants to turn into non-arrestable offenses. People wouldn’t end up in cuffs for littering, riding a horse on a dark highway, jaywalking—and a host of other infractions along those lines.

"If we’re taking arguably corny crimes off the books, we’re still holding these folks accountable, but we’re not wasting valuable and expensive resources on them so that we can focus on violent offenders," he said.

People would still get tickets, and the measure would increase fines. But the goal, Maestas said, is to free up officers, judges, prosecutors and defenders to focus on serious crimes.

Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a similar effort last year, even though both the House and Senate passed it almost unanimously. And Maestas acknowledged that rolling this bill in with a bunch of others as part of an anti-crime package could sink the whole thing.

The measure passed the House and is heading to Senate committee.

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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