Wednesday, August 24, 2005


In the case of John Hyde, suspected of five unlawful homicides, including the killing of two police officers (formal charges of murder have been filed in the deaths of the officers), the District Attorney has announced that the matter will be presented to a grand jury in the next few days. Under the rules of criminal procedure set by our Supreme Court, one who is formally accused, and has made his initial appearance (referred to erroneously, but for lack of a better term, as an “arraignment”) must be released from custody after ten days, unless he has a preliminary hearing, or is indicted by a grand jury, and is held for trial Court (District Court) proceedings.

The Fifth Amendment provision for grand jury is not applicable here, as the Fifth Amendment, in this regard, applies only to federal prosecutions. The Fifth Amendment states, in part: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, . . . “ Other provisions of the Fifth Amendment, including “. . . nor shall he be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,. . . “ are applicable in State prosecutions.

The Fourteenth Amendment due process clause lifts some provisions of the Bill of Rights and makes them applicable to the States, as restrictions on State action. This lifting is referred to as “incorporation” of the provision of the Bill of Rights into the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which amendment is applicable to the States (post Civil War). Other provisions of the Bill of Rights, including the right to be free from prosecution for felony except upon action of a grand jury, are not lifted out of the Bill of Rights and applied to State prosecutions. So New Mexico is left on its own, as to how it handles the matter of screening cases for prosecution, to prevent overreaching by the prosecuting attorney.

New Mexico required grand jury action from statehood until 1925. In 1925, borrowing from Oklahoma, New Mexico amended its constitution to permit prosecution for capital and other felonies either by grand jury action (presentment by grand jury, or indictment by grand jury) or after a preliminary examination, or hearing, before a magistrate. The test for prosecution is the same before a grand jury, or before a magistrate: probable cause that an offense was committed, and probable cause that the accused committed the offense.

In Bernalillo County, most felony cases are presented to a grand jury. The prosecutor has stated that she will present the Hyde case to a grand jury. It may be that all of the homicides will be covered by one proposed indictment (charging paper), or there may be separate indictments for separate incidents, for example, a separate indictment for the death of the two officers.

The grand jury will return a “true bill,” or a “no-bill (bill ignoramus)”. If a true bill is returned, the charging paper (indictment) is filed in District Court, and the accused is taken before the District Judge for further proceedings. In the usual case, these will ultimately include an “arraignment,” which is a proceeding in which the accused is called upon to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges before a Judge who has the power to sentence on a guilty plea. All plea bargains are concluded at an arraignment.

In a capital case, the accused may be held without bail. That rule comports with the State and federal constitutions, though they prohibit “excessive bail.” No bail is not excessive bail, in a capital case, in which the “proof is evident or the presumption great.”.

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