Monday 3/6 - Chief Justice Charles Daniels - New Mexico Supreme Court - Crisis and reform on the NM Justice system

Monday 3/6
Chief Justice Charles Daniels
New Mexico Supreme Court
Crisis and reform on the NM Justice system


So much of life is lived along the line between principle and practicality, between being our best and doing the best we can.

And so many of the decisions that place our lives on that slope from good to best involve choices, not between good and bad, but between conflicting goods.

When it comes to the principles that define our laws we want them always anchored to the very best, but not so rigidly that there can never be necessary, practical choices of what is better between virtues in conflict.

Take for instances, choices the State of New Mexico, through its courts, its legislature and its voters, made to reform the state Constitution on bail.

These were tough choices, winding their way through a series of powerful and conflicting practicalities and 2 of our most basic political values: that government should keep its citizens free and that government must keep its citizens safe.

As the State Constitutional Amendment approved overwhelmingly by voters last year was being written, 40% of the un-free people in the state’s largest jail were legally innocent, awaiting trial.  Many of them were there only because they lacked the money to pay a bondsman for bail, despite a Constitutional requirement that bail levels be kept “reasonable.”

On the other hand, citizen safety was suffering, too — because “reasonable bail” was often met by criminals, who used their purchased freedom to commit more crimes, including the recent shooting deaths of 2 local police officers.

In the simplest terms, the Constitutional Amendment’s solution to both problems was the same – no bail.  Judges were empowered to deny any bail bond for defendants they judged a threat to the citizenry, and to waive the requirement for any bail for those too poor to pay for it.

There was an important practical exception to the no bail principle…at the insistence of the bonding industry, a force in the legislature and an important element in the criminal justice system, defendants had to prove their poverty to qualify for “no bail.”


Justice Charles Daniels was initially appointed to the Supreme Court in October 2007 on recommendation of the nonpartisan Judicial Nominating Commission. He was unopposed in the 2008 primary and general elections and was elected to continue in the position. He served as Chief Justice between 2010 and 2012 and has been selected by his fellow Justices to serve a second two-year term as Chief Justice from 2016 to 2018.

Born in Arkansas, he has been a New Mexico resident since childhood.

During his 38 years as a lawyer before being appointed to the Court, Justice Daniels combined frequent classroom teaching, primarily at the UNM School of Law, with an active courtroom practice in a wide range of civil and criminal cases. He served as chair of the Supreme Court’s Evidence and Uniform Jury Instructions committees and as a member of its lawyer Disciplinary Board. He has been honored by the Albuquerque Bar Association with its Outstanding Lawyer of the Year award, by the New Mexico Bar Association with its Quality of Life award, and by the Roscoe Pound Foundation with its National Trial Advocacy Teacher of the Year award.

Justice Daniels and his wife, attorney and author Randi McGinn, have four grown daughters, four grandsons, and three granddaughters. For relaxation, he plays bass guitar in a blues-rock band and is a semiprofessional race car driver.



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