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Editorial: Students get DWI lesson

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It’s a challenge to make the consequences of bad decisions real to teens who feel like they are 10 feet tall and bulletproof. But the state’s busiest court is trying to do just that, and in turn prevent those teens from becoming its customers down the road.

And if anyone knows New Mexico’s roads are littered with DWIs, it’s the folks at Bernalillo County’s Metropolitan Court.

So the Courts to Schools program routinely takes some of its cases to school campuses, most recently the cafeteria at South Valley Academy charter school. There, Judge Sandra Engel heard cases and sentenced drunken drivers in front of 110 juniors and seniors, who likely thought getting busted for DWI was something that happened to “other people” in “other places.”

Hearing firsthand from defendants about the financial costs of fines and ignition interlocks as well as the emotional costs of having “to look your family in the eyes, which is difficult” before seeing them led away in handcuffs likely hit home more than a lecture from parents, relatives or teachers.

Taking the complex judicial system on the road – with everyone from a judge to defense attorneys, prosecutors and State Police officers – is not an easy undertaking. But Engel says she and a handful of other Metro Court judges have tried to hit a school every other month since 2010 because it’s important “to convey (to students) the dangers of drinking and driving, and that they need to make better choices.”

That’s a proactive and community-minded approach that goes far beyond the judiciary’s required scope of presiding over cases and handing down sentences. Metro Court and the schools that have participated deserve credit for trying to arrest the state’s future DWI problems before they start.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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