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El Rito man pleads to DWI charge brought by Forest Service officer

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David J. Martinez, 36, of El Rito, pleaded guilty today in federal court to an aggravated driving under the influence misdemeanor charge, and was sentenced immediately thereafter.

He was arrested by an officer of the U.S. Forest Service, which as been under fire for recent criminal charges filed in Rio Arriba County and from a raid at Taos Ski Valley. A Forest Service official on Monday said federal agents are empowered to enforce state laws on Forest Service territory.

Martinez was arrested on Sept. 27 and charged in a criminal complaint with aggravated driving under the influence and several misdemeanors and infractions for failing to comply with the New Mexico motor vehicle code and the U.S. Forest Service’s timber harvesting regulations.

According to the criminal complaint, a U.S. Forest Service officer encountered Martinez in the Carson National Forest while Martinez was driving a pickup truck loaded with timber. The officer executed a traffic stop because the timber on Martinez’s truck was not properly tagged as required by law as a condition to lawfully harvest timber off of National Forest Systems lands, according to a news release Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque.

The officer determined that although Martinez had a timber removal permit, he was not in compliance with certain federal timber harvesting regulations, the release said.

The criminal complaint states the during the traffic stop, the officer noted the smell of intoxicants coming from Martinez and observed that Martinez’s eyes were watery and blood-shot. In response to questioning, Martinez admitted he “was drinking a beer now” and that he drank two beers before he was stopped, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Martinez was concealing a 30-pack of beer that was missing 16 cans under a coat on the front passenger seat of his truck. After Martinez failed standard field sobriety tests, the officer administered a preliminary breath test on Martinez, which registered a breath alcohol content of .166 percent – about twice the legal driving limit.

Later, Martinez was given a chance to provide a breath sample at the New Mexico State Police office in Espanola, but he refused.

Martinez was charged in a four-count information with aggravated driving under the influence; driving under the influence; driving with an open container of alcohol; and violating the terms and conditions of his timber harvesting permit.

On Monday,  Martinez entered a guilty plea to aggravated first offense DWI. In entering his guilty plea, Martinez admitted he had been drinking beer before the September stop; that he had an open container of beer in his truck cab; and that he refused to take a breath test at the State Police office even though it meant that he could be charged with aggravated DWI.

After entering his guilty plea, Martinez was sentenced to credit for the time he’d already served in federal custody – four-days – followed by a year of supervised probation with conditions, including having an ignition interlock on his vehicle for a year, attendance at DWI school and a Victims’ Impact Panel, and performance of 24 hours of community service.

The Forest Service has come under fire after its officers recently undertook a Saturday drug raid with a dog at the Taos Ski Valley parking area – within the Carson National Forest – that resulted only in citations for “possession amounts” of marijuana and iprescription drugs as well as tickets and warnings for motor vehicle violations like cracked windshields. Also, some Rio Arriba County residents have complained about arrests on state charges that they say Forest Service agents have no right to make without being deputized by a local sheriff.

Special Agent in Charge Robin L. Poague, of the Southwestern Region of the U.S. Forest Service, said in Monday’s news release: “Federal regulations authorize Forest Service officials to enter orders permitting Forest Service officers to issue federal violation notices for violations of the state motor vehicle code on National Forest System lands and roads.

“This ensures consistent enforcement of the motor vehicle code throughout the state and across agencies. The current order authorizing Forest Service officers to issue federal violation notices in the Carson National Forest has been in place since May 2012. The prosecution of Martinez on this DUI charge was initiated pursuant to this authority.”

 

 

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