ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The crash was bad enough that three years later, the five women who had been together in a silver Chevy Equinox are still dealing with, still reeling from, the damage done.
They still remember seeing the old Cadillac driving too fast, too crazy, right at them, slamming hard into their SUV, thrusting it up on two wheels, spinning it sideways, shoving it down a side street as metal crumpled, glass shattered, air bags bulged and bones broke.
They can’t forget what happened July 10, 2010, at Central, east of Louisiana NE on what had been a fun day celebrating one of the women’s birthdays.
But the man accused of drunkenly slamming his Cadillac into their SUV can’t remember a thing.
And that just might be his ticket out of jail and out of the 10 charges he now faces.
Imagine this: Being so drunk you can’t remember what you did and therefore can’t be held accountable.
That, it appears, is at the crux of a competency evaluation performed in February on Huston Bileen, the 30-year-old Shiprock man accused of being so drunk that day that witnesses three blocks away at a Circle K had already started calling police before the crash, concerned that he had just staggered out of the store and into a car.
You might remember Bileen from my July 15, 2011, column. By then, the case had languished a year because he had been allowed to slip away to the safe, sovereign and jurisdiction-prickly lands of the Navajo reservation, while the District Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque contemplated which charges to ask a grand jury to indict him on.
“The bottom line seems to be, if you hit somebody and hurt somebody, all you need to do is hide out on Indian lands and no one can touch you,” a frustrated Suzanna Francis, the birthday girl and front-seat passenger that day, said then.
Bileen stayed out of reach until his arrest Sept. 27, 2011, in Farmington on charges of concealing his identity, forgery and having an open container.
He was returned to Albuquerque in December 2011 to face charges pertaining to the 2010 crash. Those charges include aggravated DWI – Bileen’s fourth DWI arrest – two counts of great bodily harm and a battery charge in connection with a punch to a hospital worker after police say Bileen refused a blood alcohol test.
Bileen has been locked up at the Metropolitan Detention Center since then, and the case has languished.
“We’re kind of in custody, too, waiting for this thing to be resolved,” said Leanne Adell, who had been a backseat passenger and who suffered among the worst of the injuries.
This week, Bileen was in the Albuquerque courtroom of state District Judge Jacqueline Flores as public defender Jasmine Jade Solomon and prosecutor Guinevere Ice argued over details of a forthcoming hearing, scheduled for Aug. 23, to decide whether Bileen is competent to stand trial.
If Bileen is found incompetent, based on an evaluation done by psychologist Dr. Eric Westfried, Solomon is also expected to argue that he is not a danger to society.
Yes, I said “not.”
And if the judge concludes that’s he’s both incompetent and not a danger, it would give her little choice but to dismiss the charges and send Bileen on his merry, incompetent, potentially drunken way.
“For someone to tell me this may actually fly was a shock,” Francis said this week. “Only in the state of New Mexico could this happen.”
Solomon did not respond to efforts to reach her, but Ice said it is her understanding that the gist of Westfried’s evaluation stems from the notion that Bileen was so drunk he blacked out and can’t remember anything he did in the moments leading up to the crash and afterward.
According to an Albuquerque police report, Bileen had attempted to run from the crash scene, refused to answer questions or submit to field sobriety tests. He was incoherent and unclear as to whether he was the driver or the passenger of the Cadillac. Asked how much he had to drink, he muttered: “Too much.”
My legal eagles tell me they have not heard of competency used in this manner. Competency, they say, focuses on a defendant’s mental state after the offense and at trial, not during the committing of the alleged crime. It’s possible, though, that Solomon will argue that because Bileen was so drunk then, he cannot assist his attorney in his defense now, one of the prongs of competency.
Ice also said it is her understanding that Westfried’s evaluation does not base its findings on any underlying previous mental illness.
The bottom line, to revise Francis’ previous comments, seems to be, if you hit somebody and hurt somebody, all you need to do is prove you are so blotto that you have absolutely no idea whom you hit or whom you hurt, and no one can touch you.
Let’s hope this defense doesn’t fly.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.