Thursday, March 25, 2010
Guest Blog by Pat Davis: Limiting Access to Criminal Records Keeps Community Unsafe
This is a guest blog by Pat Davis, who is a Democratic primary candidate for Bernalillo County Sheriff. Currently, he serves as the Public Information Officer with the Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office.
“A small business employer will no longer be able to conduct a simple court record search to learn if a prospective new employee is facing embezzlement charges from her last job. A woman who just met “Mr. Right” will never know if he has been previously arrested for domestic violence or is on probation for drug or weapons offenses.”
On Monday, March 11, Robert Montoya allegedly walked into the office of an Albuquerque attorney and confessed to the senseless double murder of his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend in their Southeast Albuquerque home. Since that gruesome disclosure, police officers, court officials, reporters and the public have begun to question how the system failed a victim who did everything we ask when confronted with a stalker with demonstrated violent intent.
The simple fact is, the system failed, and two families now shoulder the burden of trying to rationalize a senseless act.
One issue that those of us in the criminal justice system have been aware of for too long is the inconsistent way in which different agencies in the criminal justice system, from law enforcement to courts to corrections, share information about those charged with crimes. By all appearances, officials who initially set conditions of release for Montoya were not fully aware of his previous stalking and arson convictions from Las Cruces, and therefore were unable to recognize the disturbing pattern of behavior that was developing between Montoya and his latest love interest.
In the interest of protecting individual privacy, our criminal justice system is moving away from making records regarding criminals easily available to the public.
The New Mexico Supreme Court recently announced a new rule for the filing of documents in criminal cases. Beginning July 1, 2010 personal information identifying accused criminals will no longer be available to the public. While the court will maintain a separate file with that information, a small business employer will no longer be able to conduct a simple court record search to learn if a prospective new employee is facing embezzlement charges from her last job. A woman who just met “Mr. Right” will never know if he has been previously arrested for domestic violence.
While I can appreciate the importance of protecting our individual information, the trend in New Mexico goes too far. If a court believes that there is sufficient evidence to charge a person with a crime, then the public should have access to the same information. The public has a right to know who is arrested, the status of their case and be able to make an informed decision about those who we associate with.
Several years ago, the courts made information about protection and restraining orders private, in part because of concern for disclosing sensitive information about the victims. Unfortunately, this also protected the abusers whose prior abusive histories are no longer available to new suitors. Perhaps, had Robert Montoya’s previous protection orders been public and available to Stefania Gray or her family, she could have avoided him before it was too late.
Having worked both on the streets as an officer and in the courts as an advocate, I have come to recognize that the criminal justice system serves a purpose larger than simply putting the bad people in jail. We have a greater obligation to protect the public by preventing victimization.
As Sheriff, I will be committed to making criminal records available to those who need them, and I will be committed to continue to be an advocate for solutions that protect our community. Bernalillo County deserves a Sheriff who will take a stand against the criminals and for our neighbors. We deserve a Sheriff who understands the problems we face right now, and we deserve a sheriff who will take a stand right now. That is the right sheriff for right now.
Learn more about this campaign at SheriffPat.org.
This is a guest blog by Pat Davis, a Democratic primary candidate for Bernalillo County Sheriff. Davis brings a diversity of experience to the race and the position. As a police officer in Washington, DC on 9/11, and more recently as a Lieutenant with the UNM Police Department, he was recognized for innovative approaches to law enforcement, especially in the use of new technology to fight crime and improve communication with the community.
Currently, he serves as the Public Information Officer with the Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office. The youngest New Mexican to be nominated to the FBI National Academy, Pat also holds a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice from New Mexico State University.
Finally - someone with some common sense approaches to how to make the system work for the people and not the criminals. This is a man who deserves our attention.
Posted by: Chuck Wilhelm | Mar 25, 2010 11:13:38 AM
We're lucky to have such an intelligent and thoughtful candidate for Sheriff. He needs and deserves our support.
Posted by: Will | Mar 25, 2010 12:03:44 PM
I think a good programmer could take the electronic records and program an automatic blanking of some kind of any reference to the victim before the records were released to the general public.
Posted by: Ellen Wedum | Mar 26, 2010 8:07:13 AM