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Youthful Offender, No-Bills and Time Limits in Juvenile Criminal Cases

The juvenile criminal process in New Mexico differs in several ways from the adult process. In some ways juveniles are granted more favorable rights than adults, including such procedural an due process protections as the guarantee of a speedy trial.

In State v. Castro, the New Mexico Court of Appeals recently discussed the effect of a no bill on dismissal and on speedy trial time limits.

A no bill is a determination by a grand jury that there is not sufficient evidence to return an indictment against an individual. In some courts around the state, a preliminary hearing is used instead of the grand jury process.

The juvenile process typically more closely follows the preliminary hearing process in adult felony proceedings. However, in very serious felony cases, the juvenile may be charged as a youthful offender which in some counties will result in a grand jury. Other smaller counties will generally stick with the preliminary hearing process.

In New Mexico juvenile court, a delinquency petition sets forth the charges against the child in much the same way that a criminal complaint operates in adult court. Once the criminal process begins against a child in custody, the Children‘s Court Rules sets a 30-day time limit within which an adjudicatory hearing must begin. An adjudicatory hearing is one where a judge decides whether there is probably cause to believe the charges against the child have some factual basis, like a preliminary hearing in adult court.

Under the Children‘s Court Rules, the time for the adjudicatory hearing may be extended by no more than 60 days. If the time limits are not complied with, the court may dismiss the case with prejudice. When a case is dismissed with prejudice, the defendant cannot be recharged.

In State v. Castro, the State filed a delinquency petition against the defendant child chargin him as a youthful offender. The defendant child was served while in custody, triggering the 30-day time limit to commence an adjudicatory hearing. The State presented the grand jury with a list of all the delinquent acts contained in the delinquency petition. The grand jury, however, returned a no bill, meaning that it did not find probable cause to charge the Defendant.

The court did not hold an adjudicatory hearing within the 30-day limit, but instead held a hearing to entertain a motion from the State requesting an extension and a motion from the Defendant to deny the extension. At the hearing, the court dismissed the delinquency petition with prejudice for failure to comply with the 30-day time limit.

On appeal, the New Mexico Court of Appeals found that the return of a no-bill from the grand jury operated as a dismissal of all the charges against the defendant without prejudice, meaning that the State is free to re-charge the defendant with the same crimes. Since the return of the no-bill operated as a dismissal, the Court continued, there were no pending charges against the Defendant at the time of the motion hearing. Therefore, the 30-day time limit was not applicable, and the lower court lacked the authority to dismiss the case with prejudice.

What the holding in this case comes down to is that when a grand jury returns a no bill, even though the case is dismissed and the charges are no longer pending against the Defendant, the State is free to re-file charges against the Defendant for the same offense once it has gathered more evidence.

The time limits were put in place so that once the State begins the criminal process against an individual, the accused is guaranteed a speedy trial. This ensures that the State will gather necessary evidence before it files charges and that citizens will not be unnecessarily harassed. However, it seems that this ruling effectively stops the clock in favor of the State, allowing it to charge an individual again if it did not achieve its goals the first time around.

As one might gather from reading the above, this is a complex process and one would be wise to seek the counsel of a criminal defense attorney from the outset. If you cannot afford a private attorney, there many very capable public offenders that are there to assist you.

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