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Gov. signs violence, assault bills

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By Carol A. Clark

Two key pieces of his anti-domestic violence initiative have been signed into law by Gov. Bill Richardson. He also plans to sign a bill aimed at protecting victims of sexual assault during the investigation and prosecution of their cases. “When I first ran for governor, I made it a priority to fix the bureaucracy and criminal justice system that had systematically failed victims of domestic violence,” Richardson said in a news release. “We’ve come a long way, and with the stroke of a pen today, we are taking a huge step in this extraordinary effort to stop domestic violence in New Mexico.” During the bill signing, Richardson thanked the bills’ sponsors, Domestic Violence Czar Sharon Pino and First Lady Barbara Richardson for their dedication and hard work in getting these bills passed. “We’ve been pushing for these initiatives for several years,” said the First Lady. “We refused to give up because we knew there were victims counting on us who deserved this level of protection.”  SB68 increases the penalties for domestic violence offenders. It makes the third conviction of battery against a household member or aggravated battery against a household member a fourth-degree felony. The bill also makes the fourth or subsequent conviction of battery against a household member or aggravated battery against a household member a third-degree felony.  A fourth-degree felony calls for up to 18 months imprisonment and can include up to $5,000 in fines. A third-degree felony calls for up to three years imprisonment and, like the fourth-degree felony, may include up to $5,000 in fines. Los Alamos Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados expressed approval at the increase in domestic violence penalties. Graduating the penalty level as is now done with DWI offenses, Casados said, will keep people from being habitual perpetrators or victims. “Before, the maximum time someone had to serve in jail was 364 days, with no increase for the second or third or fourth offense,” she said.   Casados expressed interest in seeing the details of SB68 saying, “We have few repeat domestic violence offenders in this community and a very few offenders who have multiple victims. I’m very interested to see if the bill refers to multiple offenses against the same victim or does it apply to a single offender with separate victims.”  HB 33, the Domestic Violence Treatment Fund Uses Bill, amends the Domestic Violence Treatment Fund to allow for payment of treatment of persons referred for treatment by a judge, domestic violence commissioner, parole board or those who voluntarily submit to treatment.  The bill also changes the name of the fund to “Domestic Violence Offender Treatment or Intervention Fund” in an effort to be more consistent with the type of services currently being provided for batterers statewide. HB 337, the Sex Offense Victim Polygraph Bill, sponsored by House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, prevents law enforcement, prosecutors or other government officials from requiring victims of sexual assault to submit to a polygraph as a condition for proceeding with the investigation or prosecution of the crime.  Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy discussed his understanding both sides of the polygraph issue, but said in the end, HB 337, is a good bill because more victims will report being assaulted. “Under this new bill, more victims will feel comfortable to come forward because they won’t feel they are being immediately judged on whether they are telling the truth or not,” Torpy said. “Investigating these types of cases is a culmination of a lot of factors and polygraphs are just one piece. It’s the obligation of law enforcement to prove a case and if the investigation is conducted properly, we’ll have more cases prosecuted.”  HB 227 is another bill Richardson indicated he will sign once it gets through final bill analysis and reaches his desk. The bill entitles victims of sexual assault and stalking the same protections afforded to victims of domestic violence and ensures that victim information is protected.  HB 227 amends the Family Violence Protection Act to clarify that New Mexico does not charge victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking for court costs related to prosecuting offenders.  In taking with judges around the state, Casados said she has learned that stalking in other jurisdictions has become increasingly more serious in the last few years. “We see stalking cases occasionally in Los Alamos, but not too often,” Casados said.  Under HB 227, courts will not be permitted to arbitrarily issue mutual orders of protection, and law enforcement must investigate fully to properly identify the predominant aggressor.