New Mexico Supreme Court dismisses inmates' COVID lawsuit
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Supreme Court is upholding a lower court decision to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to release prison inmates because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court issued its opinion Thursday in a 2020 case brought by several inmates, the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. The plaintiffs claimed the state's COVID-19 response in prisons violated inmates' constitutional rights.
Aside from reducing the prison population, the lawsuit sought to require the state to safeguard the health of inmates.
The inmates and the advocacy groups had alleged that the state was refusing to enforce its own mandates for social distancing, heightened hygiene practices and quarantine measures. The complaint suggested that prison conditions had "become so intolerable as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment."
The Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that none of the inmates named in the lawsuit had filed grievances with the Corrections Department over the conditions and therefore did not exhaust administrative remedies before going to court.
The court also directed one of its rules committees to submit recommendations for rules of criminal procedure to govern class actions by inmates bringing certain petitions to challenge the conditions of their confinement. That's because habeas corpus petitions currently are not governed by the procedural rules for class actions in civil cases.