Shaharazad Booth details her vision for DA’s office ahead of primary election

Early voting is underway in New Mexico, and what is perhaps the most important and competitive race in Doña Ana County promises to be for the Third Judicial District Attorney.

Shaharazad Booth is one of four Democrat candidates vying to replace incumbent Gerald Byers during the Primary Election June 4. Democrats Ramona Martinezand Fernando Macias make up the rest of the Democrat challengers. The winner will face Republican Michael Cain in November. 

“It was never on my things to do list,” said Booth, who is seeking an elected position for the first time. “I have a 7-year-old, my family is here. My extended family is here now. I love the community and I’m watching its patience run dry.”

More:District Attorney candidates face off in forum ahead of competitive race

In an interview with the Sun-News, Booth talked about a host of issues discussed in multiple candidate forums in the lead up to the primary. Those include case dismissals, over charging or undercharging crimes and a lack of funding to run the second largest judicial jurisdiction in the state.

But Booth indicated that most issues stem from an office that has been understaffed. Byers said during a recent forum that the DA’s office currently has 19 attorneys on staff. 

“Year 1 we have to build the budget,” Booth said. “We can’t do a thing until the money is there to fill positions and all we can do until then is triage.”

After graduating from law school at the University of Arkansas in 2011, Booth worked in the Third Judicial District office before leaving to work in the Sixth Judicial District. She returned to Las Cruces to open a private practice as a defense attorney in 2019.

There were 27 attorneys in the DAs office when Booth went to Deming, she said.

Booth said she multiple local attorneys who commuting elsewhere for work would be willing to join her at the District Attorney’s Office if she’s elected.

“They know what they are doing and know how to get things done and will come in with a reputation of credibility,” Booth said.

Booth said she would seek funding from the state to fill out the office.

From a structural standpoint, Booth said she would appoint two chief deputy district attorneys to alleviate the bottleneck of cases that are prosecuted. One would oversee drug crimes and the other would evaluate white collar and victim based crimes. Under them would be deputy district attorneys with one responsible for the juvenile system, and one to supervise misdemeanor crimes.

“They (the current DA office) have decided to prioritize victim based crimes, but I believe a lot of our community says property crime is going up and they are seeing nothing of it,” Booth said. “The bottom line is I don’t think they are getting prosecuted.”

Shaharazad Booth

Booth said deputy DAs would have authority to make and approve plea agreements and adjustments to agreements.

“You have to have a clear policy on what plea agreements will look like out of your office you can deviate because every person deserves an individual look at your case, but you need to establish in this office, this is how we handle these cases,” Booth said.

She gives the example of a client who has been in jail for two years because they would not accept the charge, opting for a trial even though pleading to a lesser charge was a realistic option.

“Why those cases aren’t being evaluated for those kinds of plea offers, I think, is either a lack of experience or a lack of time,” she said.

While she was a deputy district attorney in Deming, Booth said she learned the value of relationships with law enforcement. Officers often prosecute their own cases, particularly misdemeanor cases.

Booth stressed communication with officers regarding how to interpret the law while in the field, updating them of changes and keeping them informed.

“Officers want to know why their cases aren’t going to trial or is being dismissed without plea,” Booth said. “If you have to dismiss their case because they did something wrong in the field, it was your job to let them know. Officers are burdened with the job of everything.”

In a recent candidate forum, Booth claimed she would prioritize every case if she was elected, claiming property crime against a business owner should be approached with the same urgency as the victim based crimes currently prioritized in the DAs office.

“In my heart and because I am in the system, I know the problem is the DA’s office,” she said when asked why she entered the race. “I keep waiting for the right person to run, but sometimes you turn around and say it’s your turn.”

Jason Groves can be reached at 575-541-5459 or [email protected]. Follow him on X @jpgroves.


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