ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a few months, hundreds of people facing DWI charges in six New Mexico counties will have their case updates and outcomes broadcast on social media by the state’s Department of Transportation.
It is part of Gov. Susana Martinez’s anti-DWI plan announced in December to hire civilians to try to keep track of how courts handle such cases.
She said she hopes the plan will target generous plea bargains, lenient sentencing, absent police officers and low bond amounts that let suspected offenders out on the streets to possibly continue drinking and driving.
“It will help us identify where the judicial process can be strengthened,” she said Tuesday at a news conference with New Mexico State Police and officials from DOT.
She announced that an $800,000 federal grant-funded contract to start the court-monitoring program has been signed with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the program will launch in June.
It’s time to “hold the justice system accountable for failing to punish DWI criminals,” she said when she announced the program in December.
At that time, there was no mention of publishing court updates on social media, only hiring monitors to give reports to the DOT about how judges are treating drunken-driving cases.
The more detailed program released Tuesday includes plans to have the monitors send daily updates to the DOT after court hearings of some DWI defendants in Bernalillo, Doña Ana, McKinley, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and San Juan counties – the state’s counties with the most DWI cases.
The DOT plans to use a Twitter account to post updates daily on cases as they move through the court system.
Loren Hatch, a deputy secretary at DOT, said Tuesday the department isn’t sure whether it will attach a person’s mug shot to a tweet, but that the tweets will include already public information, such as a person’s name, the date of the suspected offense and what happened in the case proceeding that day. The case will be followed to its conclusion and possibly beyond to probation or parole.
Hatch said the tweeting is more about holding the system accountable than it is about public shaming, but several officials at the news conference Tuesday said if individuals choose to drink and drive and are arrested, they deserve the public attention – despite the legal presumption of innocence.
Ousama Rasheed, an attorney on the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said the program likely won’t have a deterrent effect, but people who face DWI charges are innocent until proven guilty and the extra exposure from the state’s tweets could influence the behavior of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys.
And that is what Martinez says she wants.
“Too many lives have been shattered by drunk drivers, and too often our justice system fails our families by going easy on the criminals,” she wrote in a statement. “By shining a light on our courtrooms, New Mexicans can see first-hand how DWI cases are being handled.”
Camille Baca, spokeswoman for Metro Court in Albuquerque, said judges and the court welcome the monitors and hope the program provides people with “a better understanding on how court proceedings work.”
“We think that it is great,” she said. “It’s a public building, and we always welcome observers to our courts. … All that we would ask is that in the reporting from the visitors that they be detailed in why the cases are dismissed. There’s multiple reasons why a case might be dismissed, and as long as they are accurately reporting the reasons, we welcome that.”
Aisha Smith, state executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, said the program will fund six employees, including four court monitors, who will be expected to keep track of about 200 cases a year.
The cases, and thus the judges who are overseeing them, will be chosen at random, she said, so no particular judge, prosecutor, police officer or defendant will be unfairly targeted.
Her agency monitors court cases on a regular basis, she said, and in 2007 concluded a nearly four-year, similar monitoring contract with the state.
She said the people hired to be monitors won’t be people who have lost anyone to DWI or who are lawyers. They will get legal training from DOT and the Attorney General’s Office.
She said her agency will not be involved in the social media posts.