If you’ve ever been “left holding the bag,” you know what’s figuratively in it —responsibility or in criminal cases, guilt. And you know the feeling that goes along with being the one left holding, that a misapplication of responsibility, of guilt, has been handed to you.
There is a pattern of “left holding the bag” cases repeated across America’s, and New Mexico’s, criminal justice system. A crime is committed, and there is an actor and an accomplice. All too often, the accomplice, who is frequently a girlfriend of the lead perpetrator of the crime is left holding the bag.
And often, what’s literally in the bag is evidence against her — something the boyfriend stole, or dope he plans to sell, or a weapon he might need to use. Worst case: it’s a weapon he does use — to kill. In some states, including New Mexico, the girl holding the bag might as well have pulled the trigger.
Take the case of Santana Serrano of Hobbs, New Mexico, whose boyfriend lost a fist fight, took from her a gun he’d asked her to hold, and shot and killed his adversary. The two boys were 16; Santana was 17. But she was convicted as an adult of murder and sentenced like an adult to life with no eligibility for parole for 30 years.
Of the 446 people in the New Mexico system serving 30 years to life, only 15 are women. Three of them were sentenced for crimes committed before the were 18, and according to a group of legislators who want to reform sentencing for young offenders, “In all of those cases, the girls’ male romantic partner was involved.”
This is that familiar pattern.
Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.