ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A loophole in New Mexico's anti-DWI laws is allowing some people with ignition interlocks to escape punishment if they try to start their cars after they've been drinking alcohol.
"If you want to teach people to change habits, then you've got to punish them for when they make mistakes," said Dean Mills, who operates businesses that install interlocks statewide.
In general, DWI offenders with ignition interlocks who are supervised by the courts in New Mexico are likely to be punished for trying to start their cars with alcohol in their systems, according to an informal survey by News 13. It would likely be considered a probation violation.
However, if a DWI offender installs an interlock device and is not supervised by the courts for whatever reason, they can try to start their car with alcohol in their system as many times as they want and they won't be punished at all. In fact, the Motor Vehicle Department will simply hand back their unrestricted license when the mandated interlock period ends, no questions asked.
"Our hands are tied," said New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla, who oversees MVD. "Right now, we're doing what the statute requires us to do and allows us to do."
In New Mexico, MVD automatically revokes the licenses of drivers busted for DWI. Drivers who want to continue driving, however, can obtain an "interlock license" from MVD and prove that they've had an interlock installed in their cars.
But until the courts take over supervision of the case – which can take months – the supervisory duties fall to MVD, which doesn't care how many times a person tries to start their car after they've been drinking. MVD also can force a person who never got an interlock device after being cited with DWI to obtain an interlock device for six months; such cases are not ever supervised by the courts.
And while the device keeps the car from starting, drivers are not punished for the aborted attempt, Padilla said.
Mills, who downloads information from interlocks approximately every 30-to-60 days, said he sees interlock evidence of drunks trying to start their cars all the time.
"We had one client got his license back on Friday (and) was back to see me Monday because he got a DWI Saturday," said Mills, who operates 15 interlock installation businesses across the state.
Mills then showed a reporter a sheet of paper detailing another client.
"Here's a client where Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Saturday (she's) still blowing positive," he said.
Another man who'd been drinking tried to start his car eight times in one hour, Mills said.
And while the interlocks kept the car from starting, the pattern disturbs Mills.
"They still haven't learned," he said. "They're still trying to go out, start that car when they've been drinking."
News 13 asked MVD for statistics detailing how many interlock drivers the agency supervises have tried to drink and drive with the device in the last two years. MVD had no idea.
New Mexico law only requires drunk drivers to install an interlock for six months and not tamper with it. If MVD is the only supervisory agency for a particular interlock, then those two rules are the only requirements.
It could have been different.
The original version of the 2009 anti-DWI law would have denied a new unrestricted license to drivers who tried to start their interlock-equipped cars after they'd been drinking. That version said drivers must record 150 days out of 182 days where the interlock does not record an alcohol concentration more than 0.05.
But News 13 discovered that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee took that provision out.
"It was worse than an oversight," said Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Alb, who then chaired the judiciary committee. "What happened, in effect because we're doing all this verbally in a committee in real time, (was) that the wording wasn't proper, and that what we have not is a glitch in the law."
In an attempt to fix that glitch, Rep. Elizabeth "Liz" Thomson, D-Alb., introduced a bill last week that would close the interlock loophole.
In the meantime, Padilla said there's nothing she can do.
"Our hands are kind of tied," she said. "Because under the current statute, we're not allowed to do that."
Still, Padilla said she believes the interlock program is working.
"At least the car is not starting," she said.
And when the interlocks are taken out and the cars do start?
"Hopefully they'll get caught the first time they do that," Padilla said.
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