New Mexico v. BrownAnnotate this Case
Defendant Walter Brown was arrested in 2011, and indicted two weeks later on an array of charges, including first-degree felony murder and, alternatively, second-degree murder. The district court imposed a $250,000 cash or surety bond at Defendant’s arraignment. After spending more than two years in pretrial custody awaiting trial because he lacked the financial resources to post such a bond, Defendant moved the district court to review his conditions of release and to release him under the supervision of the Second Judicial District Court’s pretrial services program with appropriate nonmonetary conditions of release. After hearing from Defendant and the State, the district court orally denied Defendant’s motion for release on nonmonetary conditions on the ground that Defendant’s charge of first-degree felony murder carried a possible life sentence that would require at least thirty years of imprisonment. The district court subsequently filed a written order setting forth detailed factual findings. Based on the evidence presented at the motion hearing, the district court found that the pretrial services program could fashion appropriate conditions of release for Defendant and that Defendant could live with his father and return to his former job if released. After several more months of pretrial confinement, Defendant filed a second motion, again seeking release under the supervision of the pretrial services program with appropriate nonmonetary release conditions. At a hearing on the second motion, defense counsel reiterated the information presented at the first hearing five months earlier and argued that Defendant’s unique personal history made him likely to comply with conditions of release and unlikely to commit additional crimes while released. After the district court denied Defendant’s second motion to amend the conditions of release, Defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals by filing a motion under Rule 12-204 NMRA. After its review, the Supreme Court found that defendant presented the district court with uncontroverted evidence demonstrating that nonmonetary conditions of pretrial release were sufficient to reasonably assure that Defendant was not likely to pose a flight or safety risk. Despite this evidence, the district court ordered that Defendant be held in jail unless he posted a $250,000 cash or surety bond, based solely on the nature and seriousness of the charged offense. The Court concluded that the district court erred by requiring a $250,000 bond when the evidence demonstrated that less restrictive conditions of pretrial release would be sufficient. The Court therefore reversed the district court’s pretrial release order and instructed the district court to release Defendant on appropriate nonmonetary conditions.