By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Prisoners who waive extradition to face charges in another state are not eligible for bail in Montana, Attorney General Mike McGrath said in an opinion issued Monday at the request of Hill County Attorney Cyndee Peterson.
In the opinion, McGrath said bail can be allowed before a prisoner is served with a governor's extradition warrant, but not after.
Peterson said she requested the opinion in March to clarify an issue that arose earlier this year after a New Mexico man tried to bond out of jail in Havre while awaiting extradition back to New Mexico.
Jaime Romero was arrested in Havre in November on charges of robbery, theft and assault with a weapon, all by accountability, for allegedly driving a getaway vehicle during a robbery at knifepoint.
He was on parole in New Mexico for murder and assault at the time.
Following his arrest in Havre, New Mexico officials said they planned to extradite Romero back to New Mexico for a parole revocation hearing. Romero waived extradition, and was awaiting transfer when he tried to post bail for the charges against him here, Peterson said.
The confusion arose when the county refused to let him bond out because Romero was being held without bond in the New Mexico case and had waived extradition. Romero's attorney argued that he should have been allowed to post bail, and a court hearing was scheduled to decide the matter.
The County Attorney's Office was concerned about Romero posting bond, having just learned that he had been indicted by a New Mexico grand jury for conspiracy to commit murder, Peterson said.
"That's why we did not want him to bond out; we just got notice on the grand jury indictment," she said.
District Judge John McKeon denied Romero's bond, though by that time he had already been extradited to New Mexico.
To avoid confusion in future cases, Peterson requested McGrath write an opinion on the issue.
"We just needed some clarification there. We looked over the laws and thought that we were right, so that's why we requested an opinion," she said.
According to McGrath's opinion, once extradition has been waived, the prisoner becomes the responsibility of the other state.
"Once you waive extradition, this court does not have the jurisdiction to set bond," Peterson said.
The ruling affirms Peterson's assertion that the law allows for bond in cases where a person fights extradition, but not when they waive it.
When a person fights extradition, the authority that made the arrest must seek a warrant from the governor of the other state. Because that process can take three months or longer, that person is entitled to bail, Peterson said. However, if they waive extradition, the authority that arrested them no longer has legal jurisdiction over them, and cannot set bail, she added.
In those cases, the prisoner will be held without bond until they can be transported to other state, Peterson said.
"The statutes are very clear. If they waive extradition, we shall deliver them to the requesting state. There's no question," she said.
In most cases, out of state warrants order defendants held without bond.
"Usually they are a flight risk and a safety risk. That was our concern; if they do set bond, they are going to be gone again," Peterson said.
Romero still faces three felony charges in Hill County, though they case was delayed because a key witness could not be found. It has not been decided whether he will be extradited back to Havre to face the charges or if they will be dropped. Prosecutors will make that decision based on what happens to Romero in New Mexico, Peterson said.
"If he's going to be sitting in prison for 30 years, are we going to bring him back here? No. That would not be the most responsible use of taxpayer dollars. We will have to wait and see what happens and make a decision at that time," she said.
Romero served nine years in prison during the 1990s after being convicted of second-degree murder.
According to archives from the Taos Daily newspaper, Romero was arrested July 7, 1991, on a charge of killing Siegfried Dirnberger, 40, of Louisiana. Police originally believed Dirnberger's death was a suicide, but charged Romero after receiving a tip implicating Romero in the death and learning that the victim had been carrying $15,000 in cash, the Taos Daily said.
After being released from prison in 2000, Romero was arrested on felony charges of battery on a police officer and disarming a police officer, according to the New Mexico Department of Corrections. He served two years in prison on those charges.
He was on probation in Taos County, N.M., when he absconded from supervision and came to Havre, the department said.