New Mexico Public Defender Office Amendment, Constitutional Amendment 5 (2012)

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Constitutional Amendment 5
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Type:Constitutional amendment
Constitution:New Mexico Constitution
Referred by:New Mexico State Legislature
Topic:Admin. of gov't
Status:Approveda
The New Mexico Public Defender Office Amendment, also known as Constitutional Amendment 5, was a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment on the November 6, 2012 ballot in the state of New Mexico, where it was approved.

The measure made the office of state public defender separate from the state government, meaning the New Mexico Governor would no longer appoint a person to the position. According to reports, the measure was proposed during 2012 state legislative session, and was sent to the ballot after legislature voted to do so before the end of session on February 2012.[1]

Election results

See also: 2012 ballot measure election results

The following are official election results:

New Mexico Constitutional Amendment 5 (2012)
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 399,428 61.99%
No244,95338.01%

Results via New Mexico Secretary of State.

Text of measure

Ballot language

The language that voters saw on the ballot read as follows:[2]

A Joint Resolution Proposing An Amendment To Article 6 Of The Constitution Of New Mexico To Add A New Section That Provides For The Organization [Appointment Procedures And Standards For] Of An Independent Public Defender Department.

For ____________

Against ____________[3]

Summary

Below is the summary of the measure:[4]

Proposing an amendment to Article 6 of the Constitution of New Mexico to add a new section that provides for the organization of an independent Public Defender Department.

Analysis

Below is a brief analysis of the measure, provided by the state's preliminary voter guide:[4]

Constitutional Amendment 5 would amend Article 6 of the New Mexico Constitution and establish the Public Defender Department (PDD) as an independent state agency by removing it from its current location where it is under the control of the executive branch and administratively attached to the Corrections Department. The amendment would also create a Public Defender Commission that would appoint and provide administrative guidance to the Chief Public Defender and exercise oversight of the department.

Support

Arguments

The following are arguments that were made in favor of the measure. These arguments can be found on the preliminary state voter guide:[5]

  • "Making the public defender independent is a big step towards fixing an imbalance in our justice system. Unlike prosecutors and judges working independently in the Judicial Branch, the public defender is beholden to the political system in the executive branch and unable to give the public and legislature honest input into fair criminal justice policies. This amendment balances the scales in the criminal justice system."
  • "An independent PDD will take politics out of the courtroom and ensure a fairer criminal justice system by removing the PDD from the executive branch. The new commission will provide oversight for the department and protect the Constitutional right to a defense by advocating for swift and efficient justice as an equal partner in the criminal justice system."
  • "New Mexico is currently one of only 8 states that does not have statewide oversight bodies for their public defenders. This amendment will bring New Mexico into line with national trends and standards."

The following are arguments obtained from news reports:

  • According to Ousama Rasheed, “Having a governor, a career prosecutor, appoint both the head of the Department of Public Safety and the chief public defender, deciding the budget allocations to each, giving input on how each department of government shall function on a regular basis is, to put it mildly, less than ideal and a conflict of interest.[6]

Opposition

Arguments

The following are arguments that were made against the measure. These arguments can be found on the preliminary state voter guide:[5]

  • "Some say the estimated $24,000 annual cost to provide independent oversight is too expensive and grows government."
  • "The PDD functions fine as is and its place in the executive branch ensures that the Governor advocates for departmental resources."
  • "The amendment leaves it up to the Legislature to decide on the specifics of the commission, meaning that voters have little understanding of how the members will be appointed, and how much authority the commission will have."

The following are arguments obtained from news reports:

  • New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is opposed to the measure. According to the governor's spokesman, "Governor Martinez has always supported a strong public defender system because she knows it leads to cases being heard more efficiently, with each side receiving the representation they deserve. Also, we have dramatically reduced vacancy rates in the public defender department, a problem that had previously plagued it."[6]

Path to the ballot

According to Article XIX of the New Mexico Constitution, it takes a majority vote of all members of both houses of the New Mexico State Legislature to refer a proposed amendment to the ballot.

See also

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References