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New report shows high DWI dismissal rates

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez announces the results of the DWI court monitoring program, designed to shed light on how drunk driving cases are handled in New Mexico at the District Attorney office on Monday, November 20, 2017. With her is Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez. GREG SORBER/JOURNAL

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

McKinley County had the highest dismissal rate of adjudicated driving while intoxicated cases, 48 percent, followed by Bernalillo County with 45 percent, based on the monitoring of six counties as part of the DWI Court Monitoring Initiative.

The results of the initiative were announced during a Monday news conference at the offices of 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez and attended by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Of 1,106 cases monitored in the six counties, which also included Doña Ana, Rio Arriba, San Juan and Santa Fe counties, 36 percent of the DWI cases were dismissed; 35 percent resulted in guilty outcomes; 23 percent of the prosecutions were deferred; 4 percent were amended, and just 1 percent were found not guilty, said Martinez.

The courtroom monitoring was conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which then reported the case dispositions to the New Mexico Department of Transportation. The six counties were selected because they have the highest DWI-related fatality rates in the state, said Michael Sandoval, director of NMDOT’s Modal Division.

Also on Monday, Gov. Martinez announced that NMDOT will be providing grants of $300,000 to the DA’s Office in Bernalillo County and $100,000 to the McKinley County DA’s Office to aid in their prosecution efforts against DWI offenders.

“New Mexico continues to have a very, very serious problem with DWI,” said Torrez. “Unfortunately, we don’t always have the resources, the staff, the training or the logistical support we need to effectively prosecute these cases to the fullest extent.”

The additional funding will allow the DA’s Office to hire more support staff to help gather evidence as well as conduct pretrial witness interviews and “work more effectively and, frankly, more quickly with law enforcement to identify these important offenders and get them prosecuted and moving through the system,” Torrez said.

Martinez was especially concerned about the 36 percent of DWI offenders whose cases were dismissed. “That’s over one-third of the suspects off the hook for DWI,” she said. According to the report issued by MADD, the most common reason for the dismissal of a DWI case was the failure of a police officer or a witness to appear in court. The second most frequent reason was the suppression or exclusion of testimony or evidence. The third was plea bargaining.

Martinez also said a big part of the statewide DWI problem is repeat offenders. “Keep in mind, every time someone is convicted of a DWI it is mandatory in their sentence that they receive treatment. So it’s not as though treatment isn’t available or being offered. When you rack up your third DWI, there is something wrong. That person needs to be kept separated from those who are driving on the roads legally.”

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