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Sen. Martinez deserved more jail time

During his Jan. 7 sentencing hearing, state Sen. Richard Martinez, with his attorney David Foster at right, turns to speak to the two people who were hurt in the June DWI accident he caused. He was sentenced to 5 days in jail and other penalties for aggravated DWI and reckless driving. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

At least state Sen. Richard Martinez was sentenced to jail time. But he got off easy.

Last week, Martinez was sentenced to five days behind bars for his conviction, after a trial, for driving drunk and slamming into a car stopped at a red light in Española last June.

Two people in the other car were hurt, including the driver, who said his injuries have changed his life. Johnny Sisneros’ neck, back and hip injuries have prevented him from resuming work as a security officer. The senator, Sisneros said, “never displayed any remorse and has never apologized for his senseless actions.”

Meanwhile, Martinez – a former magistrate judge who’s been a senator since 2001 – keeps his Senate seat and will participate in the legislative session that starts up later this month. Maybe his brief sojourn in jail is a time for reflection on New Mexico’s chronic DWI problem as he mulls pre-session bill filings. And he says he will run for reelection this year.

Martinez has rejected calls from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and others that he resign from the Senate of a state infested with a serious drinking and driving problem, although he did step down from his powerful position as Judiciary Committee chairman.

That’s the committee, of course, that can bottle up or support any legislation that has to do with DWI enforcement. Martinez’s charge was upgraded to aggravated DWI for his not adhering to one law he should have been familiar with – he refused a breath test to determine his blood-alcohol content on the night of the crash.

It’s true that even five days in jail is more than most first-offense DWI offenders receive. But Martinez caused serious injury. “It was only by the grace of God that you did not kill someone on that June 28, 2019, evening,” state District Judge Francis Mathew said after announcing his sentence.

Also, Martinez virtually admitted at his sentencing hearing that he had put on a totally bogus defense.

At trial, his lawyer suggested that Martinez’s failure to perform sobriety tests, as shown on police lapel-cam video, was due to Martinez being dazed from hitting his head on the windshield, even though Martinez had admitted to responding officers that he had been drinking beer or wine.

But the bumped-head theory went away post-conviction, when Martinez was throwing himself on the mercy of the judge after the Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, proposed that Martinez spend the maximum six months in jail.

He told the judge, “I just made a wrong choice, your honor” – and it was clear that his wrong choice wasn’t deciding to allow his head to hit car glass.

He said he’d changed his life since the crash, attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. He told the crash victims he’d “never had a chance” to apologize before. Martinez’s lawyer maintained the AG’s Office had rejected discussion of a plea deal.

Martinez also whined about the press coverage of his case outside the courtroom. The defense lawyer maintained the prosecutors were trying to make an example of him.

A relatively light sentence might have been acceptable if Martinez had stood up and admitted his “wrong choice” and drinking problem long before a trial, apologized to the injured couple, to his constituents and New Mexicans in general, and stepped down from his Senate seat. Coming clean only when you’re convicted and facing six months in the slammer is not an honorable way to put this episode to rest.

As Judge Mathew noted, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee could have killed someone that night in June. Making an example of him would have been fine. Martinez deserved more time behind bars.