The recent case of State v. Leticia T. before the New Mexico Court of Appeals revealed a serious gap in the protections afforded to youthful offenders under New Mexico law.
This was likely an unintended consequence of the New Mexico Supreme Court‘s ruling regarding speedy trial limits in a previous case, State v. Savedra.
In State v. Leticia T., the State sought an adult sentence for a sixteen-year-old Child who was charged with assault and battery of a police officer. After the incident, the Defendant Child was arrested and taken into custody. The Defendant remained in detention until her trial, which was held over six months after her detention hearing.
Under Children‘s Court Rule 10-101 (A)(2)(b), unless specifically provided in other Children‘s Court Rules, the Rules of Criminal Procedure govern all proceedings in Children‘s Court when there is a notice to seek adult charges. When the New Mexico Supreme Court adopted this rule, the Rules of Criminal Procedure contained old Rule 5-604, commonly known as the six-month rule. Under the former six-month rule, a trial on the merits of the case had to be held within six months of certain triggering events.
Because of the additional protections afforded by Rule 5-604 including the right to bail, the right to three telephone calls within 20 minutes of detention, the right to a timely determination of probable cause, and the right to obtain a copy of the criminal complaint before being transferred to detention in a warrantless arrest and detention case, the Court of Appeals had ruled in 1998 that the former Rule 5-604 applied to youthful offenders. This was true even though the analogous Children‘s Court Rule, 10-243, provides shorter time limits for adjudicatory hearings. However, in 1998 under the old Rule 5-604, the Court felt that it was a justified trade-off for the additional protections provided by the Rules of Criminal Procedure. (Children‘s Court Rule 10-243 provides that an adjudicatory hearing must begin within 30 days for a child in detention and 120 days for a child not in detention, and also grants the court permission to dismiss the case with prejudice if the time limits are not complied with.)
However, important Supreme Court amendments to the six-month provision in Rule 5-604 have made the Court reconsider whether forfeiting the protections of the Children‘s Rules in favor of Rule 5-604 is still justified. The 2011 amendment to the six-month rule has changed the remedy available to a defendant if time limits are violated. While the former rule made it mandatory for courts to dismiss a case for non-compliance with the six month limit, current Rule 5-604 gives courts discretion to decide whether to dismiss or impose other more suitable sanctions in accordance with the specific facts of each case.
The current state of New Mexico law regarding youthful offenders leaves this more vulnerable sector of the population with few remedies remedy for violations of speedy trial rights. Despite a call to action by both the New Mexico Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, there has been no change in the Children‘s Court Rules; youthful offenders in New Mexico are not being afforded the right to a speedy trial and in theory they may be detained indefinitely until their case is adjudicated.
Second Chance for First Time Juvenile Criminal Offenders