SAN LUIS VALLEY — On Tuesday, January 12, 2020, DA-elect Alonzo Payne is scheduled to be sworn into office as the new District Attorney for the 12th Judicial District where he will take on, from day one, a bevy of open cases in various stages of prosecution, many of which involve accusations of violent, serious and complex crimes. The 12th Judicial District includes all six counties in the San Luis Valley.
As of last week, the high-profile cases include ten open homicides, three attempted homicides and seven open cases of sexual assaults with a number of cases having court dates scheduled within the first two weeks the new administration is in office. Those numbers do not reflect other cases for which the DA’s office is responsible, including post-conviction cases as well as numerous other cases of assault, theft, DUIs, illegal possession of weapons and other various and sundry charges.
When asked how he plans to take on such a large caseload immediately after taking office, DA-elect Payne does not seem overly concerned. “I’m excited to serve the people of the valley.”
When asked about staffing, Payne said he’s hired all new investigators and all-new prosecutors, including three full-time prosecutors confirmed for their position with a fourth who is a strong likelihood. One of the attorneys confirmed to be on staff is Alex Raines, who is already very familiar with the 12th Judicial District Judicial system. The other three attorneys are from outside the San Luis Valley. Mr. Payne will be prosecuting cases, as well. In addition, several employees from DA Willett’s administration will be staying on to work for Payne.
In recent years, the DA’s office has typically had six full-time prosecutors on staff, including the DA in Alamosa who prosecuted cases, plus five assistant DAs with one assistant DA located in each of the five remaining counties and largely responsible for cases coming out of their area. Part-time prosecutors were occasionally brought in on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Payne plans to do some restructuring, perhaps by region or division, perhaps reducing the numbers of offices while still being certain to have a presence in each county in the valley. “Let’s get them hired and working before we worry about where they sit.”
When Payne was campaigning for office, his platform was very different from not only his opponent but also many of his predecessors, placing an emphasis on criminal justice reform and opposition to the “criminalization of the poor.” When asked how his administration will reflect those differences in practice, he said, “The biggest difference is going to be me. I come with a much different perspective on the criminal legal system.” Although he declined to share specific policies he’ll put in place, saying “it would be presumptive of me, from my perspective, to do so before Tuesday,” Payne said, “There will be changes in how and when we ask for cash bail. We’re also going to be looking at some programs for pre-filed diversion and programs for diversion where charges have already been filed.”
A diversion program in the criminal justice system is a form of sentencing in which a criminal offender joins a rehabilitation program to help remedy the behavior that led to the original arrest.
“I come with a much different concept of how we bring justice to the valley, and it’s not necessarily carceral first. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for restorative programs. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for alternative means of reaching a fair sentence for people.
It’s like I said from the very beginning. People in the valley are broke. It’s not a fair system if you’re basing it on how much money a person has in their pocketbook.” After a moment, he goes on to add, “People aren’t statistics. People are…people. If you don’t provide some compassion for the people who find themselves in the position of the defendant or in the position of the victim, you’re missing a lot of opportunities. Maybe it’s more difficult in a place like Denver, but I think it’s achievable here.” He then adds, with a laugh, “And, from my perspective, if you can get ahead of the issues we’re dealing with, it’s better for my office and it’s better for the community, as a whole.”