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Editorial: Senator deserved more than 5 days for aggravated DWI

At least state Sen. Richard Martinez was sentenced to jail time. But he got off too 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, Johnny Sisneros, who says his 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 and senator since 2001 – keeps his Senate seat for the legislative session starting Jan. 21 and says he will run for reelection.

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

That’s the committee that can bottle up or support any legislation on DWI enforcement. Martinez’s charge was upgraded to aggravated DWI for not adhering to one law he should have been familiar with – refusing a breath test to determine his blood-alcohol content 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 sentencing that he put on a totally bogus defense. At trial, his lawyer suggested Martinez’s failure to perform sobriety tests, as shown on police lapel-cam video, was from hitting his head on the windshield, even though he had admitted to responding officers he had been drinking beer or wine. The bumped-head theory went away post-conviction, when Martinez threw himself on the mercy of the judge after the Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted, proposed he do the maximum six months in jail.

He told the judge, “I just made a wrong choice, your honor.” He said he’d changed his life since, attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. He told the crash victims he’d “never had a chance” to apologize and whined about press coverage. His lawyer maintained the AG’s Office had rejected discussion of a plea deal and was trying to make him an example.

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, constituents and New Mexicans, and left the Senate. Coming clean only when you’re facing six months in the slammer is not an honorable way to put this episode to rest.

As the judge noted, Martinez could have killed someone. Making an example of him would have been fine. He deserved more time behind bars.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.