Public Defenders

New Mexico Ballot Measure Would Create Independent PD's Office

A ballot measure in New Mexico seeks to remove the governor’s authority to appoint the state’s chief public defender.

The proposed constitutional amendment would create a commission to oversee the Public Defender’s office, report the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Las Cruces Sun-News. Currently the PD is part of the state’s Corrections Department.

According to the New Mexican, “The amendment would bring New Mexico in line with national standards and the American Bar Association’s best practices. Currently, only eight states do not have statewide oversight bodies for their public defenders.”

The measure has broad support among lawyers, including Ousama Rasheed, president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, the New Mexican says. He wrote in a message to colleagues that the amendment is a “no-brainer.”

“Having a governor, a career prosecutor, appoint both the head of the Department of Public Safety and the chief public defender, deciding the budget allocations to each, giving input on how each department of government shall function on a regular basis is, to put it mildly, less than ideal and a conflict of interest,” Rasheed wrote.

Gov. Susana Martinez opposes the measure. She understands the need for appropriate balance, her spokesman, Scott Darnell, told the Sun-News. “Governor Martinez has always supported a strong public defender system because she knows it leads to cases being heard more efficiently, with each side receiving the representation they deserve,” Darnell said. “Also, we have dramatically reduced vacancy rates in the public defender department, a problem that had previously plagued it.”

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