February 4, 2016

House passes bills for stricter DWI laws

The House passed three bills on Thursday night that would increase penalties on crimes related to DWI.

Shoved in Police CarOne would create a felony for those caught with a DWI while driving on a revoked license, another would add the fourth DWI penalty—which is the first DWI that qualifies as a felony—to the habitual offender statute and the third would increase penalties for the fourth through seventh DWI by a year and increases someone’s eighth DWI from a third degree felony to a second degree felony.

The most-discussed bill involved creating a felony for a DWI while on a revoked license, though it was another smaller provision that was most controversial.

Instead, it was the section that said anyone who knowingly permits someone on a revoked license will receive a felony that had many raising hypotheticals including those of a husband and wife who co-own a car. Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, said that the concerns were overblown.

House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said he voted for every DWI enhancement for the past two years, but that this one he was worried about the “unintended consequences.” Egolf voted for the other two bills in front of the House on Thursday night.

“Because we can come up with fairly logical, fairly routine hypotheticals where this is troubling, my concern is that we don’t have the language right,” Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe, said.

“This is going to be very narrowly crafted,” Pacheco said when presented with questions about the scope of his bill.

He also said that he designed his bill to “send a message” to the state to be aware of DWI, even if they are not the ones driving.

The bill passed 39-26.

Habitual offender

Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, sponsored the bill to add DWI to the habitual offender statute.

The state habitual offender statute increases the penalties on some felonies for each offense. The second qualifying offense would be a one year addition to their sentence. The next would be a four year addition and a fourth or subsequent offense would result in an eight year addition.

This bill would add a fourth DWI to the habitual offender statute. IN other words, if someone had two qualifying offenses and three DWI offenses on their record, a fourth DWI would be subject to the additional penalties.

This has been part of prior court cases before, and Dines said, “We as a legislature must specifically state the intent of the Legislature to have the enhancement apply to both the DWI statute and the habitual offender statute.”

The House agreed and passed the bill 49-116.

Increase penalties

Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, D-Albuquerque, sponsored another bill that would increase penalties for DWI. Her version would increase penalties for someone’s fourth through seventh offenses by one year each and make an eighth or subsequent offense a second-degree felony.

When questioned by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas if she thought it would be a deterrent more than the current system, Maestas Barnes said, “Me, personally, I think it’s going to be a deterrent.”

When Maestas asked if she had any data to show that the current statute was not working to deter the fourth or subsequent offenses, Barnes said that you only had to open up a newspaper to see the latest DWI.

“My hometown paper does a remarkable job of marketing crime,” Maestas said, in a not-subtle reference to the Albuquerque Journal.

“I don’t make public policy based on what’s above the fold in my hometown paper,” Maestas said. “I make public policy on data, which we do not have.

Maestas had expressed concern a number of times—on debate of each bill—that there were three bills focused on the same section of law.

When asked about it, Maestas Barnes said that she believed they were three distinct issues related to DWI.

Her bill received the most support of the three bills and passed on a 52-12 vote.

The bills now all head to the Senate.