State Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, is asking the Legislature to adopt a law making it easier to charge a driver of a stolen vehicle with murder if the person recklessly plows into another car and kills someone.
The basic penalty for vehicular homicide is a six-year sentence, Rehm said. Stealing a vehicle can result in 18 months or more in prison, depending on whether it’s a first offense.
But first-degree murder – the penalty called for in Rehm’s bill – has a basic sentence of life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
“What I’m trying to do is make it easier to take these individuals who have a total disregard for the safety of the public and hold them criminally liable,” Rehm said Tuesday in an interview. “… There needs to be a stiffer penalty than six years, when you look at the seriousness of what they’re doing.”
The proposal comes after several Bernalillo County wrecks involved stolen vehicles over the past few years, he said.
Just last month, a crash involving a stolen van killed 14-year-old Shaylee Boling and her mother, Shaunna Arredondo-Boling, 39. Arredondo-Boling’s 3-year-old son, who was also in the car, suffered a broken leg.
Arredondo-Boling’s mother, Diane Boling, said her family is still reeling from the loss of her daughter and granddaughter. The family held its second funeral service in two weeks Tuesday.
Told about the proposed law, Boling said she supports increased penalties for people convicted in these cases.
“I don’t want anybody else to have to go through this because of something stupid someone did,” Boling said. “Maybe it will make someone think a little harder next time before they steal a car or do anything unlawful that could take a life from somebody else.”
The two suspects in the stolen van who allegedly crashed into Arredondo-Boling’s car face charges of murder and other crimes.
But Rehm, a retired sheriff’s captain, said it isn’t always easy to pursue a murder charge when someone in a stolen vehicle drives recklessly and causes a fatal wreck. Prosecutors may have to bring charges under the “depraved mind” theory – that the person was acting without regard for human life.
Rehm’s proposal would not require the “depraved mind” theory for such a crash to qualify as murder.
His proposal faces some political challenges. Democrats control the House and Senate, and they have said repeatedly that their top priority is adopting a budget and creating jobs.
Many Democrats also oppose tougher punishments, saying they are costly – because offenders are housed in prison longer – and don’t effectively deter criminals.
Rikki-Lee Chavez, a spokeswoman for a coalition of groups evaluating crime legislation this session, said state laws should be aimed at pervasive problems, not one high-profile incident. The New Mexico SAFE coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union and New Mexico Conference of Bishops.
“This is precisely the type of costly penalty increase proposal N.M. SAFE cautions against,” Chavez said in a written statement. “This legislation will not solve real problems as it purports to do.”
Rehm’s proposal, House Bill 328, would stiffen penalties not just for vehicular homicide but also for offenders who cause great bodily harm while recklessly driving a stolen vehicle.
The bill must clear three committees before reaching the House floor – the Consumer and Public Affairs Committee, the Judiciary Committee and the Appropriations and Finance Committee.
It would also require approval by the Senate and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.