Greetings from the Land Of Enchantment
In 1973, the New Mexico Legislature enacted the New Mexico Public Defender Act to meet the State’s constitutional obligations to provide counsel to indigent persons charged with crimes in New Mexico state courts. The Act provided for a Public Defender structure with state appropriated funding and a centralized administration.
The Department’s current operating budget for FY 13 is just over $40 million; Department lawyers handle around 72,000 cases each year. Representation of Department clients includes misdemeanor, juvenile, and felony cases, through appeal and post-conviction proceedings, if necessary. In addition, we have statewide mental health, habeas and capital crimes divisions that provide specialized representation.
Over 391 people are employed by the Department: 200 lawyers, and social workers, investigators, paralegals and support staff. In addition, the Department contracts with over 130 private lawyers, who serve as contract lawyers in conflict cases and who serve in judicial districts where the Department does not have staff offices.
The Department is New Mexico’s largest law firm. The Administration office is located in Santa Fe, the state capital. Public Defender offices are found in Aztec, Gallup, Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Clovis, Hobbs, Carlsbad, Roswell, Alamogordo and Las Cruces.
The Sixth Amendment right to counsel is a fundamental right applied to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause, and requires that indigent criminal defendants be provided counsel at trial. Criminal Defense Lawyers are also the auditors of the use of state authority. We all have a stake in living in a society that offers personal freedom and strong protection against arbitrary state action and public defender lawyers in every court room in New Mexico are the best means to ensure those freedoms remain intact.
However, the Public Defender Department is not just about representing the interests of indigent criminal defendants and defending constitutional principles, it also improves our communities and we do this with the help of our social workers.
The Department has fifteen social workers across the state in our district offices. The social workers prevent and control crime by addressing the social and medical needs of our clients. They work with the community and its resources to develop long term systemic solutions to crime and its root causes. The Public Defender Department is committed to preventing crime through more effective, holistic client representation that increases the safety of New Mexico communities and lowers recidivism rates.
Public Defender lawyers and staff do not see clients merely as individuals to be represented in legal proceedings. We want to make sure they do not return through the revolving door. We are the machinery of due process but we are also the machinery of social intervention. The overwhelming majority of clients represented by our office have substance abuse and mental health problems, and our offices are dedicated to alternative dispositions that help the client. The Department represents our clients but we also try to help address the underlying issues that bring clients to the criminal justice system. We help people who suffer from mental illness, drug addiction and alcohol abuse; we help them find medication, treatment, court programs, community services and housing in order to decrease arrests, incarceration and hospital stays.We strive to improve client representation while helping reduce recidivism rates that save taxpayer dollars, but most importantly, we strive to improve the lives of individuals and their families in the community.
Every day eligibility workers, clerks, paralegals, secretaries, administrators, social workers, investigators, computer staff, lawyers, lawyer managers and District Defenders work hard to ensure the client’s legal and social needs are met.