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DWI Court: Serious Lesson for Students

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Metro judge brings defendants to Albuquerque High School where kids witness sentencing

Some of the students filing into the Albuquerque High School auditorium were under the mistaken impression that they would be seeing a performance about the perils of drinking and driving. But when Metro Judge Sandra Engel called court into session, they realized it was the real deal.

“Just to make sure everyone understands, this is not a skit,” Engel said. “Defendants are taken to jail from here.”

Engel’s courtroom moved to the high school Thursday morning to allow an audience of mostly juniors and seniors to watch several DWI sentencings. The event was the first of a program called Courts to School, which Metropolitan Court and Albuquerque Public Schools plan to repeat at other high schools, particularly as prom season approaches. The idea, Engel said, is to let students see firsthand how a driving while intoxicated conviction can derail a person’s life.

Cory Odom was the last defendant sentenced. A student in his 20s, Odom turned to the students after he was sentenced to three days in jail with another 86 days suspended pending successful probation.

“I was out with my friends, having fun, barhopping,” he said. “I was trying to keep in mind that my body can process one drink per hour, but that doesn’t always work with mixed drinks.”

An assistant district attorney read the details of Odom’s case. He was pulled over on Interstate 25 near Comanche, after an officer saw him speeding and saw him veer into another lane, interfering with another car.

“I was scared,” Odom told the students. “I knew I had been drinking and I smelled like alcohol.”

He told about the indignities of being booked into a cell, emphasizing the total lack of privacy. He talked about the phone call he made to his mother, breaking the news of his arrest.

“I’ve always been the good son, and I didn’t want to tell her,” he said.

Along with the other defendants, he emphasized how much the conviction disrupted his life. The fines that have added up from hundreds to thousands of dollars, the many court dates that have put him behind in school, and the three remaining days in jail left on his sentence.

“Jail really sucks, I hate it,” he said ruefully.

Students sat in rapt attention, and the room became hushed when Odom was handcuffed and taken out of the room for transport to jail.

“You always hear about DWI, but this was more reality, I guess,” said Marissa Ricci, a 17-year-old senior.

Another senior, 18-year-old Emily Alexander, said she was particularly struck by the story of Josephine Serna, 41, who was convicted of DWI after she was found passed out in her car with the keys in the ignition.

In a question-and-answer session after court adjourned, students pressed Engel and Assistant District Attorney Jason Jaramillo about the limits of DWI law and what “control of the vehicle” means in cases like Serna’s. It’s a legal question that has puzzled adults, and Engel told students there is not a simple answer.

“It depends,” she said. “And the best thing you can do is don’t take that chance.”

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