New Mexico Criminal Procedure

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Although there isn’t a lot of disparity in the criminal processes followed in the various parts of the country, many states do shift slightly from the prescribed procedures. So, it always helps to know about the specific steps that are taken to try offenders in a certain state. Here is a look at how adult offenders are processed before and after arrests in NM.

Custodial Detention and Booking

Arrests are defined as the physical restrictions imposed on the movement of an accused. The law has the provision for detention made on the basis of active warrants from NM as well as warrantless arrests. Once the accused is detained, this is considered as the beginning of criminal proceedings against him. The arrestee will be subsequently taken to the local police precinct where the booking process will be carried out.

Making bail

If the arrest was conducted under an outstanding warrant from NM, the accused will have to be taken to court for a bail hearing and the formal filing of charges against him. The magistrate who has sanctioned the active warrants will also consider the bail petition of the detainee in light of his criminal history and risk level. If bail is not made, the prosecutor will file a felony case against the defendant and schedule a preliminary hearing within 10 days of arrest.

Arraignment and plea bargaining

Defendants who are being accused in criminal matters will be arraigned at the magistrate court in all counties except for Bernalillo. In this county the hearing will take place in the Metropolitan Court. During this session of the court, the accused is expected to enter into a plea which can be “guilty”, “not guilty” or “no contest”. If an indictment has been returned against the defendant, the judge will reconsider the evidence at this point to ensure probable cause and set bail if appropriate.

Since the charges are already filed at this point, right after this juncture in the criminal trial, the defense and the prosecution may discuss a plea bargain. This is essentially a lesser charge or sentence request that is put on offer by the prosecution to avoid going to trial. In return, the defendant is expected to plead guilty to the charges being framed against him.

Preliminary hearing or grand jury indictment

Between arrests and the grand jury indictment, the accused can be released from custodial detention. The grand jury indictment can be held before or after the accused is taken into custody. If it is held before, the return of the indictment will be followed by the issue of a formal arrest warrant.

The preliminary hearing and the grand jury indictment are processes that are included for the determination of probable cause against the suspect. The multiple hearings held for the purpose are meant to save judicial resources. So, a case is only brought before the district court after it has been ascertained that the state does have significant and incriminating evidence against the defendant.

Trial, verdict and sentencing

Criminal cases are generally heard by a panel of jurors who deliver the verdict. Depending on the seriousness of the crime, the case can be tried at the District Court or the Magistrate Court. The jury has to be unanimous in their verdict for it to pass. Sentencing is carried out by the judge and the actual punitive prison term imposed will depend on a range of factors including the crime in question, the criminal history of the offender, social factors, circumstances of the crime and input from law enforcement agencies.