Judge Sarah Backus: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Judge Sarah Backus

Eighth Judicial District Court - NM Courts Home Judge Sarah Backus is receiving widespread backlash after handing down a low bail sentence to five suspects accused of teaching children how to conduct school shootings.

Judge Sarah Backus is receiving widespread backlash after handing out what many feel is a “weak” bail amount to the five suspects accused of training children to conduct school shootings and handle weapons.

Backus, a New Mexico state judge, denied the state’s request to hold defendants Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, Lucas Morton, 40, Jany Leveille, 35, Hujrah Wahhaj, 37, and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35, in jail, and set a $20,000 bail, which many citizens claim is too low and is allowing “suspected terrorists” to be released back into the community.

Here’s what you need to know about Backus:

1. Backus Is Receiving Backlash After Handing Down a Weak Bail Amount to Five People Suspected of Training Children to Conduct School Shootings

Backus is under fire for her most recent ruling, involving a case in New Mexico. Five defendants were arrested after police uncovered a remote compound where authorities say 11 children were being trained to conduct school shootings, according to Fox News.

Backus is receiving severe backlash after she ordered the two men and three women arrested to what many consider a weak bail amount, forcing them to wear ankle monitors, have weekly contact with their attorneys and not consume alcohol or own firearms while on bail. She said although she was concerned by “troubling facts,” prosecutors failed to articulate any specific threats to the community, according to Fox.

“What I’ve heard here today is troubling, definitely. Troubling facts about numerous children in far from ideal circumstances and individuals who are living in a very unconventional way,” Backus said.

Not only are the defendants accused of training children to attack schools, they are also accused of teaching them tactical skills, including how to “speed load” weapons and fire while in motion, Fox reports. The suspects were arrested after police raided a “squalid makeshift living structure near the Colorado state line,” after a report came through that there were several neglected children living in filth with little food and dangerous conditions, such as a leaky propane tank.

2. Backus Has a History of Issuing Low Bail to Violent Offenders, Including a Man Accused of Slapping His Newborn Baby and Battering His Girlfriend

Rafael Orozco

Backus has a history of issuing low bail to violent offenders, according to Fox. Last month, she set a $10,000 bond for Rafael Orozco, a 24-year-old Taos man accused of battering his girlfriend, his newborn child and a health care worker at Holy Cross Hospital in September 2016.

Police said Orozco’s outburst prompted a lockdown at the hospital after he punched his girlfriend for breastfeeding their newborn in front of a male doctor, according to Santa Fe New Mexican. According to police, Orozco allegedly grabbed his girlfriend by the throat and slapped the baby.

Orozco then fled the hospital but was arrested in Rio Arriba County a few months later. Orozco was accused of several more crimes while in prison, including obtaining opioids and pulling a fire alarm. He and his brother Cristian Orozco were charged with assaulting a guard a year later.

In September, Backus approved an order to incarcerate Orozco at the Lea County Correctional Facility until his trial, according to Fox. His defense attorney recently filed a motion arguing for his release and last month, Backus ruled in his favor, Fox reports.

3. She Was First Appointed to the Bench by Republican Governor Susana Martinez Who “Strongly Disagrees” With Backus’ Recent Ruling

Backus, a graduate of the University of California Hastings College of Law, served as a deputy public defender and deputy Attorney General in San Francisco prior to her appointment to the bench, according to Fox. She has lived in Taos for 24 years.

She was first appointed to the bench in June 2011 by Republican Governor Susana Martinez, and was elected to the post in 2012. Martinez “strongly disagreed” with Backus’ decision regarding the five suspects arrested in New Mexico.

“Unfortunately, it highlights how extreme the New Mexico Supreme Court has been in dictating pretrial release for all kinds of dangerous criminals,” she said in a statement following the news of Backus’ ruling.

4. Backus Has Received Thousands of Threats Since Her Ruling, Including Threatening Comments, Phone Calls & Emails

Backus has received threats following her decision to release the five defendants charged with abusing 11 children, according to Taos News. She received swift public backlash, including thousands of angry comments that “inundated social media pages and websites where the news of the ruling was released,” and has also received threatening emails and phone calls, Taos News reports.

The New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts issued a statement condemning the threats and affirming the basis for the judge’s decision.

“New Mexico judges take an oath to uphold the Constitution and the state’s laws,” the statement, prepared by spokesperson Barry Massey, reads. “Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Backus carried out her responsibility on Monday in ruling on a motion that sought the pretrial detention of defendants charged with child abuse in Taos County.”

5. Social Media Backlash Against Backus Flooded Twitter, With Many Republicans Claiming Backus Put The Community At Risk by Releasing “Suspected Terrorists” Back Into the Public

Ryan Cangiolosi, chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said Backus’ decision to release “suspected terrorists” into the community has put the people of the state at risk, according to Fox.

“By releasing these suspects without even requiring them to post bail, Judge Backus has put people in danger and created the risk that they could flee and harm other children and communities as well,” he said in a statement. “If New Mexico Democratic Party leaders are serious about keeping our state safe, they should join me in denouncing Judge Backus and the incredible failure of leadership and judgment demonstrated by her terrible decision.”

Thousands of people called for her resignation on Twitter. “This idiot judge needs immediate disbarment!” Twitter user Jim wrote. “If anyone else is hurt by these criminals, I hope she is jailed.”

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