In New Mexico, Judge and Prosecutor Agree: No Funds Means No Death Penalty

In a potentially far reaching ruling, a trial judge in New Mexico has barred the state from seeking the death penalty because the legislature has failed to provide adequate funding for defense representation. The state's Attorney General, Gary King, agreed that the capital prosecution cannot go forward. After finding that funding for the defense was insufficient and raised constitutional problems, King wrote, "The state now confesses the motion to dismiss filed herein and cannot in good faith under these circumstances oppose the dismissal of the death penalty in these cases." State District Judge Neil Candelaria took the death penalty off the table for Reis Lopez and Robert Young, two inmates accused of killing a prison guard, because no money was appropriated for death penalty indigent defense during New Mexico’s 2008 Legislative Session, despite a unanimous warning from the state Supreme Court. The legislative session ended in February.

Jacquelyn Robins, one of the attorneys representing Young and Lopez, said that her clients’ case will proceed as a first-degree murder case. She also noted that the Court’s decision was “very important,” stating, "The court is saying that if New Mexico is going to pursue the death penalty, it has to make funds available to the defense just as it makes them available to prosecution."

(“Death Penalty Out in Guard Killing,” by Scott Sandlin, Albuquerque Journal, April 4, 2008).

See Representation and Costs. The court's ruling and the agreement by the Attorney General may mean that no further death penalty prosecutions can proceed in New Mexico without legislative action.