This past Wednesday, Governor Richardson issued a press release to let us know that he is planning on changing DWI laws yet again. Specifically, he plans on changing the laws to make a first offense punishable by three days of mandatory jail time, and to do away with the possibility of using alternative programs to incarceration for DWI offenders.
Good politics makes for bad law. As DWI law stands in New Mexico, one can be convicted of DWI without ever having driven while intoxicated. Experts have found that blood-alcohol levels can change (diminish) by as much as .019/hour. Under our current DWI law, it is against the law to have a blood or breath-alcohol level of .08 or higher within three hours of having driven an automobile. In turn, the current DWI laws punish citizens for drinking alcohol instead of for driving drunk!
In addition, the Metropolitan Detention Center, the largest short-term detention center in New Mexico, has been sued several times for overcrowding. In order to ease overcrowding, the Courts have established community custody programs where low-risk inmates are allowed to serve their jail sentences in their own homes for crimes that carry mandatory minimum jail sentences. The governor's new DWI initiative ignores the jail overcrowding problems completely.
The state's DWI policy needs to change. There are clearly some individuals that shouldn't drink, because they have problems, and thus shouldn't drive --those people could really benefit from some intensive counseling, not jail time. However, the majority of first time DWI "offenders" don't have an alcohol problem, and would not benefit in any way from being incarcerated.
Aside from the aforementioned concerns, the State's taxpayers do not deserve the additional burden of paying to incarcerate someone that does not need to be incarcerated, nor the burden of paying out money for lawsuit after lawsuit due to jail overcrowding. Hmm...tax and spend Democrats out there? Aren't we facing a statewide budget shortfall as it is?
It will be interesting to see how the legislature deals with the governor's new DWI initiatives. By the way, I worked in the legislature while in law school --I can almost guarantee that your legislator will drink alcohol at least half the time he/she is there. At the same time, I can almost guarantee that your legislator is scared to do anything that might upset the governor.