Michael is a founding member of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, NMCDLA, which was formed in 1992. He is one of a group of defense attorneys who met at the University of NM Law School to reenergize former criminal defense groups that had grown dormant. Charles Daniels, later a Supreme Court Justice, was the first president of the new group; Michael was the second, beginning in 1993 and serving three years until 1996.
During his term Michael initiated by-laws of the group, prompted the hiring of the first executive director and the first legislative lobbyist for the group and greatly increased the number of members. He also promoted legislative activity including by starting the first “Legislative Drive-In” in which members learn about effective communication with the legislature. It’s this work that contributed largely to him receiving the 1996 Driscoll Award, the highest award of the Association.
After being president he served on the board as a past president member for the next 25 years and continued to travel, teach and lobby in service of the organization. Michael helped initiate the Trial Practice program, serving as faculty for several years. 0
Grand Jury Legislation.
Michael believes the grand jury process is flawed so he has worked for decades seeking to improve the charging system. In 2003 he helped then-Rep. Ken Martinez pass legislation to improve the process. That statute, though imperfect, continues to improve the charging system.
Pretrial Interviews of Witnesses.
One of Michael’s proudest achievements in the justice system surprisingly arose from his work on a committee, a normally tedious and unglamorous role. In 1981, as a member of the Supreme Court’s rules committee, Michael proposed a radical change to discovery procedures in criminal cases, to provide interviews of all witnesses, similar to depositions in civil cases but at much less cost and while eliminating the need for a judge’s approval. The Supreme Court enacted the proposed rule and recorded interviews of witnesses have been conducted ever since resulting in a trial process that is provides fuller discovery and is fairer for all parties.
Eyewitness Identification Legislation.
After decades of efforts by criminal justice reformers, in 2019 the New Mexico Legislature passed a comprehensive bill that dictates identification procedures so that mistaken identifications can be eliminated. Michael drafted a bill that was initially sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley and passed in 2019. The Act is called the “Accurate Eyewitness Identification Act.”
Recording of interrogations.
To improve the reliability of interviews of defendants, Michael helped draft proposed requirements for recording contacts with defendants. In a bill sponsored by then-Rep. Hector Balderas, the legislature passed the Electronic Recordings of Custodial Interrogations statute in 2005.
Habeas Success for the wrongly convicted.
Part of Michael’s work has been to attempt to free those who have been wrongly convicted. Two examples stand out:
1. Juvenile Lifer
Jesus was incarcerated in 1994 at the age of 16. He was convicted of first-degree murder on two theories and sentenced as an adult to life sentences. The sentences were upheld on appeal and a previous writ was denied.
Michael was Jesus’ seventh lawyer. He filed a state habeas petition to show that he was mischarged and fundamental error had occurred in the instructions to the jury. The petition was granted, the convictions were vacated, and Jesus was ordered immediately released.
Jesus was incarcerated for 29 years. He took his first adult breath outside prison shortly before he celebrated his 42nd birthday with his family and friends.
2. Conflict of Interest; No physical evidence.
Martin was a pecan farm worker. He and his wife have their own children, but decided to become foster parents as well. Eight years after the alleged event, Martin was charged with molesting a four-year-old foster child.
Martin denied the accusation and there was no physical evidence to support the accusation. A viable alternative suspect was previously represented by Martin’s trial counsel on charges that resulted in these children being taken into foster care.
As Martin’s sixth attorney, Michael filed a habeas petition based on ineffective assistance of counsel and conflict of interest of counsel. The petition was granted, the conviction vacated, and Martin was immediately released.
After 10 years of incarceration, Martin is now back home with his family.