New Mexico Governor Wants First-Time Drunk Drivers Jailed, Fined

By Heather Clark | August 12, 2009

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson wants to put first-time drunken driving offenders behind bars for three days and fine them $2,500.

Richardson also said that measures to be introduced during the next legislative session in January would close a loophole allowing those who refuse to provide breath or blood samples to plead in court to a non-DWI charge.

State Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said he would introduce the legislation.

Richardson stressed that more needs to be done, even though New Mexico has decreased alcohol-involved fatalities by 35 percent over five years.

“We’re going to make a final, decisive push during my remaining 16 months in office to prevent more alcohol-involved tragedies,” he said, pointing out that nearly 70 percent of alcohol-involved fatalities are caused by first-time offenders.

Laura Dean-Mooney, the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, joined Richardson for the announcement.

New Mexico is the top state in the nation for tough anti-DWI laws and an example when she gives testimony in statehouses around the country, she said.

“The country is learning what can happen when a state gets serious about stopping DWI,” she said.

The initiatives include:

  • Increased penalties for DWI offenders that range from the mandatory three days in jail for first-time offenders to six months in jail for third-time offenders. Currently, first-time offenders face a fine of up to $500, and they can be sentenced up to 90 days in jail, though that is not mandatory.
  • Stopping the use of electronic monitoring in place of mandatory jail time. The practice is common in many counties around the state, state DWI czar Rachel O’Connor said.
  • Allowing prosecutors to charge offenders with second-degree murder in cases where drunken driving causes a fatality.

O’Connor said there is no estimate yet on how much the anti-DWI proposals would cost if enacted.

An estimated 9,000 first-time offenders are arrested each year in New Mexico.

Wirth’s district was the scene of a crash that killed four teens on June 28. Authorities say a wrong-way driver with a blood-alcohol content twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent crashed into a carload of teenagers.

MADD hopes to someday eliminate drunken driving through the use of technology that would prevent people with high blood-alcohol content from starting their cars.

Richardson said it’s difficult to develop legislation to deal with stupid behavior such as drunken driving.

“What you can do is toughen the penalties, and what you can do is work with the judicial system to follow the laws,” he said

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