RIO RANCHO, N.M. — West Mesa High students got a first-hand lesson on the consequences of driving while intoxicated Thursday thanks to a Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court program that brings real defendants to local schools.
Several hundred students gathered in West Mesa’s Performing Arts Center to watch Judge Yvette K. Gonzales hear two cases from a bench set up on the stage.
The Courts-to-School Program, launched in 2010, replicates a real courtroom, down to the handcuffs slapped on the defendants.
It’s a unique mix of civics education, career exploration and “scared straight.”
After hearing their sentences, the defendants – both second-time DWI offenders – delivered emotional statements about the impact of their crimes.
“I felt like my whole world was crashing down on me,” said Matthew Widdows of his arrest roughly nine months ago. “Being booked into jail was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.”
Widdows, who works in correctional facilities, had decided to get behind the wheel and drive a half mile to pick up some pizzas even though he had consumed a number of drinks.
He was pulled over because he didn’t have his headlights on, and found to be intoxicated.
In the aftermath, Widdows lost his car, driver’s license and girlfriend and barely held onto his job. Legal fees and lost wages added up to thousands of dollars.
“I made an extremely bad choice,” Widdows said. “I hope you will make good choices.”
Michael McGranahan, the second defendant, had a blood alcohol level of .15 – well above the .08 legal limit – when an officer stopped him for speeding. He spent four days in jail, and said he would have been fired if his parents didn’t own the business where he works.
McGranahan’s service technician position requires driving, but he can’t get insurance to operate a company vehicle for five years.
“If I could go back, I’d call Uber,” McGranahan said. “It’s extremely easy.”
Under the terms of their sentences and probation, both men will spend four days in jail, have to an ignition interlock on their vehicle, complete 48 hours of community service, pay roughly $800 in court costs, and undergo random drug and alcohol testing.
After the proceedings, the judge, attorneys and probation officers answered questions from the audience, including a few inquiries about law school.
Gonzales told the Journal she hopes Courts-to-School inspires students to learn more about the legal system.
“They got to see an actual courtroom,” she said. “We like to talk to them about things in their future that they could do.”
Genesis Mendez, a 15-year-old sophomore, said she is already thinking about how she can make it into the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“This (presentation) makes it seem more real,” Mendez said. “It makes you actually want to pursue your goals.”