New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez did a joint press conference to address the results of a DWI court monitoring program by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in the six counties with the highest DWI-related fatalities.
(See November 21, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, Metro & NM Section, page A6, “New report shows high DWI dismissal rates.”)
1,106 DWI cases were monitored in six counties and it was found that 36% of the DWI cases were dismissed, 35% resulted in guilty outcomes, 23% resulted in prosecutions; 4% of the charges were reduced or amended, and 1% were found not guilty.
Martinez announced that the New Mexico Department of Transportation would be providing a grant of $300,000 to the Bernalillo County District Attorney Office.
$300,000 is a good start only if it is actually spent.
During the press conference, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez once again complained that his office does not always have the resources, the staff, the training or the logistical support to effectively prosecute the cases.
What Torrez did not say is that according to the state’s Sunshine Portal, Torrez’s office has 45 vacant positions out of the 299 positions the office has been budgeted for by the New Mexico legislature.
At least 14 of the vacancies in the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office are for trial attorneys, and another 14 are for legal secretaries.
There is no doubt that 14 more trial attorneys as well as 14 more legal secretaries, would go a long way in reducing the backlog of cases that Torrez has been complaining about the entire first year he has been in office.
WE HAVE AN ENFORCEMENT PROBLEM
The statistics from the MADD report in the six counties is nothing compared to what has been going on in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County for the last eight (8) years.
The statistics from the Bernalillo County Metro Court are alarming and reveal just how bad things are with the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) being unable to patrol our streets, get drunks off the road, make DWI arrests and prosecute DWI cases.
In 2008, there were 633 felony DWI arraignments and the number steadily declined each year to 104 in 2015.
In 2008, there were 6,538 DWI/DUI misdemeanor arraignments and the number steadily declined each year to 2,942 in 2015.
According to the 2017 city budget, the Albuquerque Police Department made more than 2,200 DWI arrests a few years ago.
In contrast, APD made only made 775 DWI arrests in the first six months of the current budget year.
In other words, DWI arrests are down around 30 percent.
A decade ago, APD was making more than 5,000 DWI arrests a year.
The Bernalillo County Metropolitan court handles cases for virtually all law enforcement agencies that make arrests in Bernalillo County, including the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department (BCSO) and the New Mexico State Police.
The largest percentage of cases arraigned in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan court is for APD cases.
In 2009, there were 746 people arraigned for felony DWI and that number dropped to a mere 104 in 2015.
In 2008, there were 6,538 people arraigned for misdemeanor DWI and in 2015 that number dropped by close to 60% to 2,942.
First, second and third DWI offense convictions are misdemeanors, and depending on the number of the conviction, carry penalties of between 6 months to 3 years license revocation, 90 to 364 days in jail, $500 to $1,000 fine, up to 5 years’ probation, and may include other mandatory penalties such as alcohol evaluation, DWI school, community service, treatment, and ignition interlock for 2 years.
Fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh or subsequent DWI convictions are felonies and depending on the conviction number, carry penalties of lifetime license revocation, 6 months mandatory prison time up to 3 years in prison, up to a $5,000 fine, mandatory alcohol evaluation, and lifetime interlock.
Aggravated DWI is where a person’s breath alcohol test is above a .16 BAC (breathalyzer), or there is a refusal to take the BAC test or if bodily injury while driving while intoxicated is caused, with mandatory jail time of 2 days for the first offense, 4 days in jail for second offense and 60 days in jail for the third offense.
We have the laws, but they mean nothing unless people are actually arrested and prosecuted.
The silence by the press and anti-DWI advocates for the last eight (8) years has been deafening given the serious drop in DWI arraignments and convictions in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County alone.
Complaints about lack of resources by the Bernalillo County District Attorney should be ignored until such time as he has staffed the office to the level it already has been funded for by the legislature.