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I.   THE PROCESS BEGINS

What Should I Do If A Crime Occurs?

First call 911, Emergency communications will dispatch officers in priority situations. In those instances where follow-up is not immediately required, your call will be transferred to the appropriate law enforcement agency to make a full report.

If a suspect has been identified by the police and sufficient evidence is available, the case is presented to the District Attorney. The District Attorney is the people's representative in the criminal justice system, with sole responsibility for deciding whether charges should be filed and what those charges should be.

New Mexico law classifies criminal offenses into two broad categories:

  • Misdemeanor:

these less serious crimes punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year in the county jail and /or a fine up to varying amounts.

  • Felony:

these are the most serious of criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment for more than a year.  In addition, fines in varying amounts may be imposed.

What Is My Role As A Victim or Witness?

You are a witness because you have seen, heard, or know something about a crime that has been committed. You may not think what you know about the case is very significant; however, small pieces of information are often required to determine what really happened.

Your presence and willingness to testify may be the deciding factor in determining what will be done in the case. If the defendant decides to plead guilty, the plea may come at the last moment because the defendant is hoping you, the witness, will not show up, or that the case will be dropped for other reasons. If you are the victim of a violent crime it is often helpful to keep a private journal, or diary, of your day to day experiences after the crime was committed.

Are Victims Actually Parties to a Criminal Proceeding?

No.  The Victim is not a formal party to a criminal proceeding.  The parties to a criminal proceeding are the plaintiff and the defendant.  The plaintiff is the party bringing action and the defendant is the party against whom the action is brought.  In a criminal proceeding, the state or the government is the plaintiff and the accused (also referred to as offender) is the defendant.

What If Someone Threatens Me?

Concerns about your well being and safety after being victimized or witnessing a crime are normal. If you have fears or receive threats concerning your involvement in the case, you should immediately contact the law enforcement agency that investigated the case or the District Attorney's Office/Victim Advocacy Division. In an emergency situation call 911. Do so as soon as possible so that the threats can be documented and appropriate action taken. In New Mexico, there are laws to protect you against people who attempt to bribe, intimidate, threaten, or harass you.

If you lived with the Defendant at some time in the past you may qualify for a protective order. The Victim Impact Coordinator can explain to you the necessary steps to obtain the protection of a court order.

What Happens To The Accused?

The person charged with a crime is called the defendant. Soon after arrest by a law enforcement officer, the defendant is taken before a judge who informs the defendant of the reason he/she has been arrested, and of the facts contained in the complaint. This is called the initial appearance or arraignment. At this time, the judge sets the amount of bond, the conditions of the release and advises the defendant of his/her rights. Unless a defendant can post bond in the amount set by the judge, he/she remains in custody and is normally transferred to the county jail to await further action in the case.

What Is the Purpose of Bond?

Bond is allowed in almost all criminal cases, including felonies. The amount of bond is not set by the District Attorney but by tje Judge. The purpose of the bond  is to assure the offender's appearance at future proceedings.  In setting the amount, the judge is required to consider a number of factors, including: the seriousness of the offense charged against the defendant, the defendant's prior criminal history, and the likelihood the defendant will return to court to face charges.

The United States and New Mexico Constitutions require that all offenders arrested for an offense not punishable by death be allowed to post bond.  Bond is usually money or security that the offender gives to insure that he/she will appear at every stage of the criminal justice process.   Bond may consist of cash, security, property, or the offender's own recognizance, it means that he/she has been released based solely on his/her promise to appear at the proceedings.

What Is A Subpoena?

A subpoena is a court order directing you to appear in court at a particular time and place. It may be delivered by mail or in person. It does not mean that you are charged with an offense. Its purpose is to call you to court so that you may tell what you know about the case.

Usually you are notified well in advance of the court date. If you change your address or phone number, immediately notify the District Attorney's Office. They may need to contact you if there is a change in the date or time you are to appear. Our telephone number will be provided to you for use in the event you have questions regarding your appearance. Be sure to call before you report to the courthouse.

When subpoenaed, you must appear or risk being held in contempt of court and/or fined. Inform your employer that you have been called to testify and may have to appear. Your employer should not discharge, punish, or threaten you for attending a criminal proceeding when you are subpoenaed. If you are experiencing difficulties with your employer regarding appearance, please contact the District Attorney's Office immediately.

It is always advisable to contact the District Attorney's Office upon receipt of a subpoena from either side (defense or prosecution). This let's our office know you have been contacted and allows us plenty of time to meet before you testify.

How Many Times Will I Have to Appear In Court?

No one can tell you in advance how many times or how long you will have to be in court. The process of justice takes time. The number of times you may be called to appear in court and the delays you may encounter are the result of our criminal justice process being based on the principle that every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The constitutional rights that protect the defendant are the same rights that would protect you if you were accused of a crime.

The primary stages involved in processing a criminal case are summarized below to help you understand what happens when a person is accused of a crime.

  • In cases involving misdemeanor offenses, usually your first and only appearance will be for the actual trial.


  • In a felony case, the first time you may appear as a witness, will usually be for the preliminary hearing. This hearing is not held to determine the innocence or guilt of the accused, but merely to see if sufficient evidence exists to bind the defendant over to district court for a trial. If the judge determines that the evidence establishes that a crime has been committed and that it is probable that the accused committed such crime, the judge will set the case for trial. In this event, the judge may order the accused held in jail or released on bond. However, if after listening to the evidence from both parties the judge determines that the evidence is insufficient to charge the accused, the judge must release him/her. Another method to be utilized in felony cases is the grand jury. The purpose of the grand jury is also for the preliminary hearing, but rather than a judge hearing the probable cause evidence, a group of twelve individuals hear the evidence to determine if probable cause exists and the case should be held for trial.


  • Pretrial motions by the defense attorney or by the prosecuting attorney may require additional hearings before the trial begins. On occasion, a victim or witness may be called to testify at such a hearing.

What If The Defense Attorney Contacts Me?

It is the responsibility of the State to provide to the defense a list of all witnesses whom the State plans to call to court. If contacted by the defense attorney or their investigator prior to testifying in court, always request proper identification and an explanation of the purpose of the interview. If you have any concerns about talking to the defense attorney or their investigator, you are encouraged to contact the assistant district attorney in charge of your case and/or the victim advocate and to have him/her with you at the time of the interview. Assume that all interviews of this kind are being taped.

Do All Cases Go To Trial?

If the prosecuting attorney handling a criminal case determines there is not sufficient evidence to take the case to trial, the case may be dismissed. This action is taken only after the case has been completely investigated, and normally after the police and the prosecutor have exhausted all avenues for obtaining additional evidence. All victims will be notified should this become necessary.

The reduction of charges or dismissal of some counts in an existing case occurs from time to time. This procedure, which is called plea negotiations, plays an important part in the criminal justice system. As a case develops, certain facts may be discovered that require the reduction of charges against the defendant. In some instances it is because things not known at the time of charging are brought to light; sometimes it is because evidence or statements made by the defendant thought to be available at the trial are not available; sometimes important witnesses cannot be located. In any event, when plea negotiation is used by the District Attorney's Office, it is only after a careful determination that justice is best being served. While the ultimate decision belongs to the District Attorney, the victim and the police agencies are made aware of the reasons and necessity of the plea negotiation, and their concerns are considered.

Isn't the Purpose of Brining a Criminal to Justice to Avenge or Punish the Wrong Inflicted on the Victim?

Yes and no.  Although the injury to the victim is the reason a criminal proceeding is initiated, the act committed is looked upon by law as "social wrong" or a crime against the State.   Consequently, during the course of investigation, trial, sentencing, and incarceration, the officials involved consider the impact of the crime on society as a whole, as well as the impact on the victim.

"Someone I Love Was Murdered"

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