Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Longtime state Sen. Richard Martinez will serve five days in jail before the start of New Mexico’s legislative session, under a drunken driving sentence handed down Tuesday by a state judge.
Martinez, a Democrat from Rio Arriba County, tearfully apologized for his actions before being sentenced by District Judge Francis Mathew, while also saying he has been sober for six months and is seeking help for a drinking problem.
“I’m truly sorry,” Martinez said at one point during the sentencing hearing, while looking back at the Española couple he injured in the June crash. “I never wanted or intended this to happen.”
“I just made a wrong choice, your honor,” Martinez later told the judge.
However, Mathew said the veteran senator had already made a statement to his constituents – one of disregard for their well-being – on the night he plowed into another vehicle that had stopped at a red light in Española, injuring both occupants of the other vehicle.
“It was only by the grace of God that you did not kill someone on that June 28, 2019, evening,” Mathew said after announcing his sentence.
Under the terms of the sentence, Martinez will have to report to the Santa Fe County jail by next Tuesday to serve his sentence. The state’s 30-day legislative session begins Jan. 21, meaning Martinez would then be free to participate in the entire session.
Once released, Martinez will face 85 days of probation and have to pay $500 in fines, along with victim restitution costs. He will also have to attend DWI school and have an ignition interlock device installed in his vehicle for one year, among other requirements.
Martinez was facing a minimum sentence of two days in jail and a maximum of 180 days after being convicted of aggravated drunken driving and reckless driving. Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office had asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence, saying Martinez had openly flouted laws he knew better than most.
“Drunk driving continues to plague our communities, and anyone who risks the lives of New Mexican families by getting behind the wheel while drunk will be held accountable,” AG’s Office spokesman Matt Baca said in a statement. “While the judge disagreed with our proposed amount of incarceration, we are grateful that justice was served for the victims.”
Reelection bid planned
Martinez, who has served in the Senate since 2001, was found guilty last month after a 1½-day bench trial.
After being convicted, Martinez resigned from his post as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. But he has ignored calls – including from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham – to also resign from the Legislature and has indicated he plans to run for reelection this year to his Senate District 5 seat.
He told reporters while leaving the Santa Fe courthouse with his attorney and supporters that he believes media coverage of his trial was unfair. He also said he still has widespread support in his northern New Mexico district.
“I’ve heard a very strong message from my constituents that they want me to continue serving,” Martinez said.
Martinez, who is also a retired Rio Arriba County magistrate judge, said during the sentencing hearing that he has made major changes to his life since the June 2019 incident, saying he has regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in recent weeks.
After the crash, Martinez could not successfully perform two sobriety tests, as shown on police lapel-cam video, and refused to take a breath test to determine blood alcohol content. The refusal to submit to a breath test is grounds for an aggravated DWI charge under New Mexico law.
However, Martinez’s defense attorney described the crash as an accident during the trial and suggested Martinez’s poor performance on field sobriety tests was due to his being temporarily dazed from hitting his head on the windshield.
The attorney, David Foster, asked the judge Tuesday for a lenient sentence for Martinez, citing various health issues that could be exacerbated in jail and accusing the AG’s Office of trying to make an example of him.
One of Martinez’s sisters and a niece also spoke in his behalf, describing the senator as a good man who made a poor decision.
‘We did nothing wrong’
Johnny Sisneros, the driver of the other vehicle, expressed a different sentiment. He described the crash as a life-changing event for his family and said Martinez never apologized or expressed remorse for his behavior.
“There are a lot of things I cannot do anymore as a result of this crash,” Sisneros testified during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, saying he is still dealing with neck, back and hip injuries that have prevented him from resuming work as a security officer.
“We did not ask for this,” Sisneros added, while his wife stood silently by his side. “We did nothing wrong. In fact, we followed the letter of the law.”
Martinez is the latest in a string of legislators to be charged with drunken driving over the past several decades in New Mexico, a state with one of the nation’s highest rates of impaired driving fatalities as recently as 2017.