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Home » Editorial: How useful is the Arnold tool?
It really should come as no surprise that the Arnold tool, used by some NM courts to determine the likelihood of a defendant appearing in court and/or committing a new crime, recommended Solomon Pena’s release. And at one of the lowest levels of supervision.
Because if you just look at the factors the Arnold Tool weighs — including the severity of the charges, the suspect’s age, previous violent crimes, recent “no-show” — it would make sense that Pena would give a “3” out of a possible Scoring a 6 on the seriousness of the current charges (third and fourth degree offences) and whether he will appear in court when he is due (no failure to appear in the last two years).
Prosecutors allege that Pena, a Republican who publicized that a “rigged” election last year led to his landslide loss to longtime House incumbent Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, had a string of drive- by shootings targeting the homes of Bernalillo County Commissioners Adriann Barboa and Debbie O’Malley, State Rep. Javier Martínez and State Senator Linda Lopez. Not really things to clear the honor system for. However, the tool recommended Pena to release “ROR PMLA 2”, which was released at its own discretion with minimal monitoring layer restrictions before the trial.
The tool and public safety
Developed by Arnold Ventures, the tool, whose “principal purpose is to invest in evidence-based solutions that maximize opportunity and minimize injustice,” is used to create individualized public safety assessments for suspects to determine if they pose a risk, if they are released before the trial.
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Penas PSA says he has been charged with four counts of shooting at or from a vehicle; four shots at an apartment or occupied building; four counts of conspiracy to shoot at an apartment or occupied building; and a count of the receipt, transportation or possession of a firearm or device of destruction by certain individuals; an attempt at grievous bodily harm (lethal weapon); and one of the criminal solicitation to shoot at an apartment or occupied building.
Although one of those shootings resulted in bullets going through a child’s bedroom while she slept, Pena faces mostly fourth-degree felony charges, the lowest felony category. That’s probably why he received a “3” for the severity of the charges.
And he got a “3” on his risk factors because his criminal record was not violent, he’s over 23 years old, and he hasn’t had any absenteeism from court in the last two years.
And although Pena also served his sentence in 2008 on multiple felonies including commercial burglary, theft and involvement in a juvenile crime, he got out of prison, earned his bachelor’s degree, bought a home and got a job, according to his attorney . All admirable achievements for a productive member of society.
Artie Pepin, director of the courts’ administrative office, says the tool provides “evidence-based information” to help decide on the level of appropriate pre-trial services and monitoring. Some proponents of the tool concede that it will almost always recommend a release and is only concerned with what conditions should be imposed if a judge determines that a release is required.
Prosecutors wrote in an application for pre-trial detention that Pena’s “actions show how far he is willing to go when he is unhappy with reality. He arranged for several shootings in several houses and personally attended at least one of the shootings. There is no reason to believe that someone so unwilling to accept reality will believe court-ordered terms of release.”
Judge rules against release
Fortunately, Second Circuit Judge David Murphy ruled in favor of public safety and ruled that Pena will remain behind bars pending trial. He said: “Based on the nature and circumstances of the charges, as well as the defendant’s own history as a convicted felon and allegations of possession and use of an assault rifle and allegations that he provided firearms to his conspirators, “There could be no release terms be created that would ensure public safety.
Second District Judge Joseph Montano made a similar decision in August in the high-profile case of Muhammad Atif Syed, who was accused of killing two Muslim men, although the Arnold Tool said he too should be released as he posed little risk his age, criminal record and other factors.
The legislature can intervene
State Senator Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is right in throwing a much-needed spotlight on the pretrial release and the Arnold tool. It is used in New Mexico courts in Bernalillo and San Juan counties.
Cervantes, a lawyer, says the tool has “many bugs but is used to justify releasing criminals.” And while the system erred on the side of public safety in the Pena case, “we will seek the same level of protection for all New Mexicans, not just elected officials.”
And if the tool is nothing more than a recommendation on the level of surveillance when it’s released, why is it used before a judge decides whether a suspect should be detained?
The New Mexicos voted overwhelmingly in 2016 to reform the cash-for-bail system, which kept penniless felons without funds behind bars awaiting trial, while wealthy and/or connected violent criminals enjoyed a revolving door. The idea was to keep dangerous criminals behind bars and let everyone else try to get their lives under control.
And given the latest information on the Arnold Tool, Cervantes is right: The New Mexicos are still waiting for a fair and consistent system that does just that.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is not signed as it represents the opinion of the newspaper and not that of the authors.