LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KVIA)-- The District Attorney for the Third Judicial District in Doña Ana County, Gerald Byers, clarified Thursday why criminal cases continue to be dismissed.
The District Attorney said a new rule by the New Mexico Supreme Court is to blame. The rule was announced for Southern New Mexico in June.
Byers said 35% of criminal cases in Doña Ana County have been dismissed so far, roughly 1,782 cases.
"It puts severe restrictions on the ability of the state to gather evidence and prepare witnesses and prepare the cases in a timely way."
He also said his office has been negatively impacted in a short time period.
"I'll just be blunt about it. Here's the first thing: it's an unfunded mandate. We had to shift the functions of many people in our office. We had to take investigators and reassign them to different tasks. We had to take support staff members, paralegals, legal secretaries and assign them to different tasks, because now all of a sudden, it takes a lot of of of people power," Byers said.
He explained New Mexico's Supreme Court has been working on implementing judicial reform for cases to move along the system quicker. Thousands of cases were on pause because of the backlog created by the COVID pandemic.
The new rule is known as the Case Management Pilot Program for Criminal Cases. It sets out timers for cases to go to trial within a certain time period including 210 days, 300 days or 455 days.
The District Attorney's office explained each case is different, and the court decides the time frame for each.
Cases that aren't ready for trial within the new deadline had to be tossed out. He said his office has dismissed cases only to refile them when they are ready.
He insisted case dismissals are because of the new rule and out the control of prosecutors or defense attorneys.
Byers also took offense at the comparison of what happened in El Paso last year where hundreds of cases were being dismissed at a time under former District Attorney Yvonne Rosales.
"For whatever reason the situation existed in El Paso, it had nothing to do with a case management rule that was implemented by the State Supreme Court. And so that's where, in all fairness to the El Paso District Attorney's office, that's where it's best for me to make that distinction, because the two bodies of law are very different."
D.A. Byers insists his office has been in constant communication with the families involved in these cases. He said he sent out a letter in English and Spanish to inform them about this new rule.
He also explained why some of their cases had been dismissed. He reiterated his commitment to refiling these cases.
"We're handling business. We're getting the job done. Even with the implementation of the case management law," Byers said.