Amanda Schottmuller sat quietly throughout her prison court docket listening to on June 29, understanding little about what was taking place. She didn’t know why a decide was making an attempt to find out if she was harmful.
“It didn’t make any sense,” Schottmuller, a 37-year-old former nurse who has struggled with melancholy, bipolar dysfunction and substance abuse for the previous 10 years, later mentioned. “I’ve by no means tried to hurt anybody in my life.”
About two weeks earlier, police arrested Schottmuller for trespassing at a fuel station in Edgewood, New Mexico, about 60 miles south of Santa Fe. She then allegedly kicked out the again window of a police automotive, making an attempt to flee, so she was charged with destruction of property and resisting arrest. She additionally confronted a housebreaking cost for breaking right into a Walgreens every week earlier and allegedly stealing a Mountain Dew and three packs of cigarettes. She pleaded not responsible.
Although nobody was damage in these incidents, a Santa Fe County prosecutor sought to carry Schottmuller in jail with out bond whereas she awaited trial, arguing to a decide that her erratic conduct made her a hazard to the general public.
4 years in the past, state legislation wouldn’t have allowed prosecutors to request that Schottmuller be held with out bond. However in 2016, New Mexico voters authorised a constitutional modification to nearly solely get rid of money bail. The change was designed to forestall low-risk defendants from getting caught in jail earlier than trial simply because they couldn’t pay. However in observe — as a result of the brand new legislation additionally allowed judges to disclaim bail in felony instances for essentially the most harmful defendants, with out clearly defining what it meant to be “harmful” — public defenders and coverage consultants say it’s had the unintended consequence of preserving extra defendants in jail with none choice of pretrial launch in any respect.
From 2015 to 2016 — previous to the elimination of money bail — solely eight defendants have been held in jail with out bond throughout 4 New Mexico counties, together with Santa Fe County, based on a College of New Mexico examine. This yr, from January to mid-October, at the very least 30 defendants in Santa Fe County alone have been held with out bond, based on knowledge obtained by NBC Information. These embrace individuals accused of homicide, but additionally these charged with nonviolent crimes, reminiscent of housebreaking, driving whereas intoxicated and drug possession.
“When this was offered to the voters in 2016, it was promised that it could solely be used to detain the worst of the worst,” mentioned Jennifer Burrill, a supervising legal professional within the state public defender workplace’s Santa Fe division. “Sadly, that is not the way it’s being utilized.”
Each prosecutors and public defenders have criticized the state’s bail adjustments for a scarcity of readability. Public defenders say the principles give prosecutors and judges an excessive amount of discretion, whereas some district attorneys argue the broad definitions don’t do sufficient to make sure the detention of violent offenders.
It’s unclear whether or not the adjustments have shrunk the jail inhabitants in New Mexico — although some judges and state officers have mentioned the brand new system is working, citing decreases in the usage of money bonds (which are actually used provided that a defendant is taken into account a flight danger).
Advocates for pretrial reforms and coverage consultants say New Mexico affords a cautionary story to different states contemplating eliminating bail — notably due to the rising roster of individuals charged with nonviolent crimes who’re detained with out an choice for launch.
Except states create clear guidelines that prioritize releasing individuals from jail, “what you will note is judges default a lot of the best way they did to setting bail in earlier sorts of instances, and now simply imposing preventative detention,” mentioned Insha Rahman, vice chairman of advocacy and partnerships on the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit analysis and coverage group that helps pretrial reforms.
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At Schottmuller’s June listening to, Matthew Carlisle, her public defender, argued that she didn’t pose a menace.
“Will we lock them up as a result of it is simply simpler by inflating dangerousness or can we set situations of launch that require her to take steps for sobriety and push her to hunt assist for her psychological anguish?” he mentioned in the course of the court docket listening to, held nearly due to Covid-19 restrictions. “And I urge the court docket that it chooses the latter.”
However on the finish of the 35-minute listening to, the decide sided with prosecutors, ordering that Schottmuller be held with out bond.
What counts as ‘harmful’?
Schottmuller mentioned she turned depressed in 2011, amid what she described as a demanding custody battle over considered one of her two kids. Her household mentioned she struggled with drug abuse as effectively, however had by no means damage anybody.
Earlier than this yr, Schottmuller had little on her prison document aside from site visitors tickets. In 2018, she was charged with forgery, however the costs have been dismissed after she accomplished probation, court docket data present.
Early this spring, Schottmuller stopped taking her psychological well being drugs, with out which she was disoriented or confused, her father, Richard Roberts, mentioned. On March 30, Schottmuller was arrested for damaging property at an Albuquerque financial institution, a misdemeanor that was later dismissed.
In April and Might, police experiences present that Schottmuller was suspected in additional than a dozen incidents that ranged from shoplifting cigarettes and refusing to drag over for police to lighting a tree on hearth in a grocery retailer parking zone and taking pictures at automobiles from her yard (she informed police she was taking pictures at trash cans, based on court docket data). However she wasn’t charged in any of these incidents and mentioned she has no recollection of them.
Previous to New Mexico’s bail adjustments, a defendant awaiting trial might solely be held with out bond in the event that they have been being tried for a capital case, if that they had at the very least two prior felony convictions or if that they had one prior felony conviction and their present offense concerned a lethal weapon.
However below the brand new guidelines issued by the New Mexico Supreme Court docket after the 2016 vote, prosecutors can current a broader vary of proof throughout pretrial detention hearings, together with earlier prison convictions, instances through which the defendant was suspected however not charged with against the law and the “historical past and traits of the defendant.”
Throughout Schottmuller’s pretrial detention listening to in June, the prosecutor, Kent Wahlquist, deputy district legal professional of the First Judicial District Legal professional’s Workplace, detailed most of the incidents through which she was suspected to argue that she needs to be held in jail. “She is violent and causes injury, ignores police,” Wahlquist informed the decide, based on listening to transcripts.
Carlisle, who has defended greater than 50 shoppers in pretrial detention motions this yr, says it’s problematic for prosecutors to base their arguments on unsubstantiated claims, reminiscent of incidents through which the defendant was not charged. “Now the floodgates are open for what’s thought-about proof,” he mentioned.
Dianna Luce, president of the New Mexico District Attorneys Affiliation, mentioned in an e mail that the brand new system locations too heavy a burden on prosecutors to show that somebody is harmful. As an alternative, she’d wish to see guidelines that enable individuals charged with sure crimes, reminiscent of homicide, to be robotically detained earlier than trial except protection attorneys can efficiently argue that they’re not a menace.
“The brand new system has created much more work for district legal professional places of work and uncertainty for victims and households of victims,” Luce mentioned within the e mail. She added that courts all through the state have dealt with the pretrial detention hearings otherwise, issuing all kinds of rulings for defendants with comparable costs and prison historical past.
‘She’s not some form of monster’
Public defenders say judges in New Mexico not often reverse choices about pretrial detention, however in Schottmuller’s case, the decide mentioned he would contemplate releasing her to deal with arrest if she obtained psychological well being remedy whereas in custody.
Schottmuller was transferred to a psychological well being facility in August after an analysis requested by Carlisle discovered that she was not competent to face trial. She spent about six weeks there earlier than being introduced again to jail. In October, a brand new analysis discovered that her psychological well being had improved, and Carlisle returned to the decide to ask if Schottmuller might be positioned on home arrest whereas awaiting trial. The decide agreed.
On Nov. 2, practically 5 months after she was arrested, Schottmuller was launched from jail and required to remain in her father’s house till trial.
In an e mail, Wahlquist, the prosecutor in Schottmuller’s case, mentioned she is an efficient instance of how the brand new bail system can shield the general public whereas additionally serving to these in want of help.
Roberts, Schottmuller’s father, mentioned he’s glad to have his daughter house. Whereas she was in jail, he felt powerless, unable to make sure she was taking her remedy and uncertain how she was doing.
“I couldn’t think about why she had earned a no bond,” Roberts, 63, mentioned. “She’s not some form of monster. She did not do some form of vicious monster issues that have been going to harm anyone.”
Schottmuller mentioned aside from the prison case hanging over her, she’s in good spirits. She spends her days cleansing the home and cooking — Roberts mentioned she makes the most effective spaghetti and meatballs — or enjoyable on the entrance porch.
She nonetheless has bother understanding why she was held with out bond. Her largest takeaway: “The authorized system is not equal for everyone.”