Gov. proposes mandatory jail time, no loopholes for DWI offenders

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By Carol A. Clark

A number of aggressive, new DWI proposals, including a plan to require three days in jail and a $2,500 fine for first-time convictions was proposed by Gov. Bill Richardson Monday.

A number of aggressive, new DWI proposals, including a plan to require three days in jail and a $2,500 fine for first-time convictions was proposed Monday by Gov. Bill Richardson.

For the most heinous DWI offenses, the governor intends to ask legislators to apply the charge of 2nd degree murder.

Richardson also wants to close loopholes allowing some drunk drivers to escape DWI charges.

“We have done more than any other state to get drunk drivers off our roads and keep New Mexicans safe, which is why we’ve seen a 35 percent reduction in alcohol involved fatalities,” Richardson said in a news release. “But I’m the first to admit – it’s not enough. We have all witnessed the pain and loss of life from truly tragic, alcohol-involved crashes in recent months. We continue to hear about people racking up a dozen or more DWI charges. And we see too many people escape accountability because of loopholes in the law.”

The governor’s anti-DWI initiatives, which are part of a larger public safety legislative agenda, are designed to deter first time drunk drivers and to strengthen the prosecution of those who do not get the message.

“We are making a final, decisive push during my remaining time in office to prevent more alcohol-involved tragedies,” Richardson said. “And for those who still don’t get the message, they will face time in jail.”

Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy addressed the governor’s aggressive plan during an interview this morning.

“I think that anything that can be done to strengthen the DWI laws in New Mexico needs to be done,” Torpy said. "Despite all that has been done, especially since Gov. Richardson has been in office, DWI still remains one of the most dangerous threats to New Mexico communites."

Los Alamos Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados commented on Richardson's proposals this morning saying, "Los Alamos does not have the major problem of repeat offenders that some counties do and that has to do with our strong probation monitoring. I'm anxious to see how the legislature looks at the governor's proposals and whatever the law -  that's what this court will obey."

The governor is proposing the following initiatives:

–       Tougher penalties including mandatory jail time and enhanced fees, which will be used to create a fund to support enhanced incarceration costs.

–       Three days of mandatory jail time for first time offenders and require mandatory fines of $2,500. Currently, first offenders face a fine of up to $500.

–       Increased jail time for second offenders.

–       Third DWI conviction becomes a felony.

–       Closing loopholes to no longer allow the pleading down of DWI offenses to a non-DWI charge for those who refuse to provide a blood or breath sample.

–       No longer allow the use of electronic monitoring in lieu of mandatory jail time for DWI offenders.

–       Provide a clear definition of second degree murder and give prosecutors the ability to charge individuals with second degree murder in cases where DWI was the cause of a fatality.

Gov. Richardson’s proposals come on the heels of the second DWI court monitoring report conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers New Mexico recommending DWI court process improvements.

The study provides feedback to the state on the status and effectiveness of current laws and court processes and includes recommendations for improving those processes.

The report tracked data for 2,372 cases from the six New Mexico counties with the highest rate of alcohol-related fatalities including Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Rio Arriba, San Juan, McKinley and Dona Ana in 2008. Of those, 1,525 were adjudicated.

“The results of this report have helped us identify problems and develop solutions” New Mexico DWI Czar Rachel O’Connor said in a statement. “We look forward to working with MADD to integrate new ideas in a way that strengthens the prosecution of DWI offenders in New Mexico”.

This study was funded through a four-year grant from the New Mexico Department of Transportation. Funding is provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.