ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Common sense might tell you that after 100 driver’s license suspensions and more than 150 bench warrants for mainly traffic violations in the last 20 years, Angelique Pena Chavez should not be allowed to drive.
But, unfortunately, common sense sometimes has nothing to do with the law.
“So they’re getting caught on a regular basis by different officers for different violations all the time,” said Paul Hansen, traffic commander for the Albuquerque Police Department. “Of course it’s very frustrating because this is kind of like a revolving door.”
Pena Chavez’s latest traffic-related mishap occurred last month when she slammed into a semi-truck parked alongside Interstate 40, severely injuring herself and her 10-year-old daughter.
Doctors later found crack cocaine hidden inside her, leading police to charge her with dealing drugs. Police don’t know if she was on her way to smuggle the drugs somewhere – she’s been arrested for dealing and trying to smuggle drugs into Albuquerque’s jail – or if she generally stashes it inside her because she gets pulled over so often.
Whatever the case, the 35-year-old Albuquerque resident now can add that incident to a history that already includes a DWI arrest, 14 speeding tickets, 22 instances of driving without insurance and stop after stop for running red lights, not wearing her seatbelt, failing to make sure her kids were buckled up and having an open container of alcohol in the car.
However, at the time of the crash last month, Pena Chavez had a valid driver’s license. In fact, court records show that she has never even come close to having her license revoked.
That’s because in order for year-long revocation to occur, a driver must rack up 12 points worth of traffic violations in a 12-month period. Pena Chavez has twice racked up six points in a year period, but never came closer than that.
“We have suspended her driver’s license over 100 times since the early '90s,” said Demesia Padilla, secretary of the New Mexico Tax and Revenue Department, which oversees the Motor Vehicle Department. “All we can do is suspend her driver’s license. And, to that extent, the law is working.”
Another area where the law also is “working” is in court.
Typically, Pena Chavez ignores at least her first court appearance after receiving a traffic ticket, which leads the court to issue a bench warrant and suspend her license, according to court records. During the last 20 years, courts have issued 151 bench warrants for all her tickets and arrests.
After last month’s wreck, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Judge Daniel Ramcyzk took note of Pena Chavez’s record.
“Hold on, I’m sorry,” the judge said. “How many bench warrants?”
A prosecutor told him there were 151 on record.
“OK Ms. Pena Chavez, that is the record for people who have appeared in my court,” Judge Ramcyzk said. “I’ve never had anyone with 151 bench warrants. Oh my God.”
However, Pena Chavez has never reached the revocation threshold because she does eventually show up in court and pays her fines, which means her license is reinstated.
“As long as she keeps her points below 12, we can’t do anything,” Padilla said.
Metro Court judges and police are similarly hamstrung.
Judges can suspend a license if a driver has racked up more than six points, but even then, the suspension only lasts for three months. And police can keep arresting her, but she keeps getting her license back.
“She’s gonna drive anyway,” Hansen said. “She’s not going to say, ‘I don’t have a license. I can’t drive.’ ”
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