University of New Mexico School of Law Students and Graduates Play Key Role in Eliminating Harmful Fines and Fees from the New Mexico Children’s Code

April 25, 2021 - Justice Irons

Justice Irons

On March 31, 2021, New Mexico Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham (Class of 1987), officially signed into law House Bill 183, which eliminates all administrative fines and fees for juveniles from the New Mexico Children’s Code.


The signing of HB 183 was the culmination of many hours of hard work by some very dedicated leaders of New Mexico, including several members of the University of New Mexico School of Law community. The Deputy Director of the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, Douglas Carver (Class of 2009), helped guide the draft bill through the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, where it garnered the support of the District Attorneys Association, the Office of the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department, as well as the Law Office of the Public Defender.  Other advocacy groups also championed the legislation, including the New Mexico Fines and Fees Justice Center and New Mexico Voices for Children. The bill was sponsored and directed through the Legislature by first year Representative Roger Montoya, and co-sponsored by alum Rep. Gail Chasey (Class of 2008).


The University of New Mexico School of Law students and graduates also played vital roles in writing, educating the public about, and securing the passage of HB 183. Alum Cristina Vasquez (Class of 2018) of Vasquez Law and Policy was integral in drafting the legislation, and current law student, Justice Irons (Class of 2021), with mentoring from Dave Schmidt, former Director of the New Mexico Council on Crime and Delinquency, and Professor April Land, testified in front of the House and Senate and provided his perspective on juvenile fines and fees as a law student. He also spoke as a future attorney and showcased the commitment that the UNM School of Law community has to protecting New Mexico’s youth and families.


The signing of HB 183 represents a necessary first step on the path of juvenile justice reform in our state. The fines and fees eliminated by HB 183 are harmful to New Mexico youth and have a disparate impact on low income families. In New Mexico, roughly 1 in 4 children live in poverty and 51% of households with children have lost employment since March 2020. Without the protections of HB 183, many families in our state would be disproportionately harmed by these fines and fees solely because of their economic status.


In addition to immediate economic consequences, juvenile fines and fees have been shown to have long term consequences for children and their families. For example, juvenile fines and fees been found to increase recidivism and expose families to collection actions, negative credit scores, license suspension, prevention of record sealing, and criminal liability.


To add insult to injury, the money collected for these juvenile costs, such as the Public Defender, fee was insufficient to even cover the expense of collecting the fees. Eliminating juvenile fines and fees is long overdue, and the University of New Mexico School of Law is proud to have played a significant role in the education of many of the supporters and advocates of this this significant legislation.


“This is a watershed moment for New Mexicans and a significant accomplishment for Professor Land and everyone else who has worked tirelessly to draw attention to this issue,” said Serge Martinez, Associate Dean for Experiential Learning at UNM School of Law. “I am so impressed by Justice Irons, whose testimony helped secure the support of the New Mexico Legislature. I’m grateful for the commitment of Professor Land and Mr. Irons and all those who are working for justice for New Mexicans, and delighted by UNM School of Law’s part in passing this law that will have an immediate and meaningful impact for juvenile defendants and their families in our state.”