Bail Reform Heads To Voters

Feb 17, 2016

Changes to the way the courts handle bail passed both chambers of the state Legislature as of Wednesday morning and will be on the ballot in November. 

It's a constitutional amendment that gives judges some leeway when deciding on bail. They can choose not to set bail at all and just keep dangerous felony suspects behind bars before a trial. And they can let people who can’t afford bail and don’t pose any threat out for less—or even for free.

Some community support for the legislation faded after it was amended, and Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe said he wasn’t thrilled about that. "I know not everyone’s happy. Sometimes when you’ve got unhappy folks on both sides, you may have reached  the right compromise."

Wirth said this is ultimately a public safety issue. Obviously, keeping folks locked up when there’s clear evidence that they’re dangerous helps ensure safety. But letting people out who can’t post low-dollar bonds does, too, in the long run, he said, because when people sit in jail, their lives are disrupted, and the chances that they’ll be caught up in the criminal justice system go up.