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Proposed N.M. law would increase penalties for suspects in high speed pursuits with injuries

DOÑA ANA COUNTY, New Mexico - Proposed legislation in New Mexico would increase the charges for suspects accused of leading law enforcement officers on high speed chases with injuries.

"First and foremost, my deputies have to protect their own safety, but also the safety of bystanders," said Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart.

According to a preview of the legislative session sent by the governor, the proposed law would upgrade the charge to a third degree felony for pursuits that result in injury. For chases that result in great bodily harm, the charge would be increased to a second degree felony.

“Enhanced penalties for these types of issues is admirable and it’s needed," Sheriff Stewart told ABC-7. "The problem we have is it’s being put into a system that’s flawed.”

Sheriff Stewart is highly critical of the pre-trial detention system in New Mexico. Approved by voters in 2016, the constitutional amendment created sweeping bail reform across the state.

However, Sheriff Stewart said it has made it easier for violent offenders to get out of jail while awaiting trial.

“That’s the problem with a lot of these criminal type legislative processes," Sheriff Stewart said. "They look good on paper, but when push comes to shove and when they meet reality, it’s a challenge.”

A spokesman for the New Mexico State Supreme Court disagreed.

"All New Mexicans share a concern about crime, but the evidence from objective research shows clearly that the great majority of people released pending trial remain arrest-free," wrote Artie Pepin, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. "New Mexico's pretrial justice system protects community safety while honoring fundamental constitutional principles such as the presumption of innocence.”

Kate Bieri

Kate Bieri is ABC-7’s New Mexico Mobile Newsroom reporter and co-anchors ABC-7’s weekend evening newscasts.

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