At least a few Republican legislators are babbling about the need for a special legislative session to crack down on crime.

They should be required to take a course in New Mexico history. Not ancient history, either. All they need to do is study legislative failings of the last five years.

In 2016, with the general election fast approaching, then-Gov. Susana Martinez called a special session at a cost of more than $50,000 a day. One purpose was to balance the state budget in a time of flagging revenues.

Martinez, a Republican who built her reputation in politics as a prosecutor, also welcomed what she described as crime-fighting legislation. In translation, the session presented an opportunity to get Democrats on record opposing reinstatement of the death penalty.

Republicans had control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in 62 years. They hoped advocating for the death penalty would help them in swing districts.

The GOP knew it would be easy to get the death-penalty bill through the House. Republicans were just as certain the measure would be buried in the Democrat-controlled Senate. There was good reason for resistance.

New Mexico sent four innocent men to death row in the 1970s for the murder of a university student in Bernalillo County. Memories of that travesty of justice remained fresh at the Capitol.

The condemned inmates, most of whom hailed from Michigan, were exonerated after 17 months in prison. An investigation by the Detroit News helped set them free. The News called New Mexico's prosecution "an incredible tale of perjured testimony, witness coercion and trial by community opinion."

Many years later, in 2009, New Mexico abolished the death penalty. Martinez wanted to bring it back, seeing it as a bargaining chip to obtain guilty pleas.

Though it was clear from the beginning of the special session that the death penalty would not return to New Mexico, House Republicans still went through the empty, expensive exercise of pressing the measure.

A three-hour debate began in the predawn hours, while most people slept. House members voted 36-30 to bring back death sentences.

Catholic Archbishop John C. Wester walked into the Capitol soon after to denounce the bill and the way House Republicans had orchestrated its passage.



Senators killed the death-penalty bill by ignoring it. In turn, voters recognized the proposal for capital punishment as a political maneuver rather than a carefully conceived bill. Democrats increased their advantage in the Senate and regained control of the House in the election.

Evil people can and do land on death row in other states. But mistakes by police, prosecutors and defense attorneys have been common enough to make New Mexicans wary of reviving the death penalty, especially in a politically charged special session.

Then-Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, defended her sponsorship of the death-penalty bill. She said cops wouldn't get it wrong the way they did in the '70s case that sent innocent men to New Mexico's death row.

Youngblood would change her view that police were infallible. An officer in Albuquerque arrested her in 2018 on suspicion of aggravated drunken driving. Youngblood said the officer treated her unfairly, a complaint she claimed many other people of color had made against police.

A judge convicted Youngblood, and voters ousted her soon after.

With all the infighting over capital punishment, both political parties squandered an opportunity to pass a meaningful criminal justice bill.

The statute of limitations for second-degree murder in New Mexico is six years. It's a strange and indefensible law.

DNA evidence can revive decades-old cold cases. The six-year statute of limitations on second-degree murder might help killers sidestep prosecution.

Several Republicans and Democrats have tried to pass a bill eliminating the six-year limitation. Their proposals have failed an astonishing seven times in the last decade.

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives say the bill could be resurrected if a special session occurred this year. They might as well wait until the regular 30-day session starting in early 2022.

House members could craft a bipartisan proposal, then spend the interim locking up support from the Senate. The bill could be fast-tracked once the regular session starts. It's a straightforward proposal that has been heard so many times even freshman lawmakers are familiar with it.

Special legislative sessions usually waste time, money and political capital. Better to save crime bills for the fresh snows of January, when the possibility of cooperation hasn't been dismissed as an illusion.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(6) comments

fred smith

We need free health. In what reality is it ok to decide just to murder someone out of revenge? that is all the death penalty is. Lets start off with AntiVaxers. Oh, I know! new business rules. No vaccine? can't run a company, or buy anything. We'll add it to the other no's. Now: no shoes no shirts no mask no vaccine. no service. If I had my say no house either.

Mike Johnson

As Gideon John Tucker so eloquently put it:"No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session." That goes for ANY session.

Emily Hartigan

Even freshmen legislators know the 6-year statute of limitations on second degree murder should be changed, and now this newbie does. Of course it can wait until January.

The death penalty is the ultimate hubris of law; good law knows its limitations because it is administered by fallible human beings. The only law that will reduce crime is just law, law tempered by a sense of its perpetual fragility. That's why we need community-based policing back, so that we can indeed use force, but only as a last resort, to protect the community.

Thanks for another great history lesson.

Richard Reinders

A lack of the death penalty puts it on the public and the police it is a death sentence for them with criminals getting more and more brazen, firearm assaults on police has gone up 1200%. https://www.koat.com/article/fbi-statistics-show-assault-on-officers-with-guns-in-new-mexico-are-on-the-rise/37353796#

John Cook

Studies too numerous to cite have found that the death penalty is no deterrent. We could profitably take all guns away from all citizens, however, including police officers. Ban the sale and manufacture of guns and ammo. Soon, not even criminals would have guns.

John Cook

It's hard to know if the TV station is more goofy in this link or if Reinders is. In all events, here is the quote:

According to FBI data, in 2015 there was only one officer in New Mexico who was assaulted with a firearm and lived, that officer was Golson.

But in 2019, the FBI reported 13 officers in New Mexico lived after being shot, a 1200% increase.

So, according to the TV story, the 1200% increase is in officers living after being assaulted. That's a good thing, if true.

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