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New Mexico House Passes Drug Treatment Measure
email this pageprint this pageemail usSusan Montoya Bryan - Associated Press
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February 18, 2010


The measure would allow those defendants who successfully completed a treatment program, which would be limited to no more than 18 months, to apply to the court to seal the records related to the case.
Santa Fe, N.M. - People facing drug possession charges in New Mexico would have the option of treatment rather than jail time under a measure that narrowly passed the House on Tuesday, two days after lawmakers resurrected the failed measure.

The proposed Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act would give judges the ability to determine after a hearing if a treatment program would be a viable option for an interested defendant. The defendant would have to pay for the treatment, and the state could pursue the charges if the treatment wasn't completed.

Supporters of the measure, which passed on a 34-31 vote, said the option of treatment could help break the cycle of drug addiction and save the state millions of dollars in incarceration costs.

"We here in New Mexico have found that incarceration isn't the only answer, but it's certainly the most expensive one," said House Majority Leader W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants. "If we just incarcerate people at that rate, at that huge expense, we end up having to figure out a way to pay for it."

Rep. Antonio Maestas, D-Albuquerque, the bill's sponsor, said New Mexico could save $22 million annually by approving the measure.

Critics have said the bill would institute a "catch and release program" for criminals and that judges would lose some of their discretion when dealing with defendants who opt for treatment before criminal proceedings begin.

"I believe that we have to rely upon our judges to know when it's time to dismiss and when it's time to treat and when it's time seal records. This legislation does the opposite. It imposes mandatory sentencing in reverse," said Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.

The measure would allow those defendants who successfully completed a treatment program, which would be limited to no more than 18 months, to apply to the court to seal the records related to the case.

The House first considered the bill on Friday and voted 37-33 to reject it after a two-hour debate. The chamber voted on Sunday to reconsider it.

The measure was able to win approval Tuesday with the help of four lawmakers who changed their votes to yes: Reps. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock; Andy Nunez, D-Hatch; Don Tripp, R-Socorro; and Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe.

Reps. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa, and Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez, D-Bayard, changed their votes to no.

The substance abuse and crime prevention bill is HB 178.

On the Net: Legislature www.nmlegis.gov



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