NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Over the years, there have been countless proposed plans in New Mexico to hold more drunk drivers accountable after they have been arrested. But, when it comes to moving the case through the court system, a KRQE Investigation shows not every drunk driver is held accountable. “If you were drinking and driving, the odds are you weren’t going to be caught or convicted,” Bernalillo County Deputy District Attorney Joshua Boone said.
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He explained he’s been working to disprove that statement throughout the last several years. As part of that effort, Boone started tracking DWI convictions and dismissals in Bernalillo County.
Looking through cases between 2018 – 2020, KRQE found several specific examples of accused drunk drivers arrested but being let off the hook. They created chaos, like complete disregard for rules of the road, a crash that killed a man crossing a street and an officer punched while making an arrest. In all three of these cases, police arrested and charged the driver, but eventually, each of their cases was dismissed.
Boone’s data shows in the last three years, the percentage of convictions is increasing each year, but hundreds of accused drunk drivers are still seeing their cases dismissed.
In 2018, the Albuquerque Police Department, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico State Police caught 2,521 people driving drunk. By 2020, because of the pandemic, bar closures and continued police officer shortages, the number of DWI arrests plummeted by more than 600.
That smaller caseload led to a spike in the percentage of convictions — from 56% in 2018 to 67% in 2020. What about the remaining third of cases in 2020? While some are dragging along in court, most have been dismissed.
KRQE obtained the Bernalillo County DA’s Officer’s data that also breaks down the reasons why a case is dismissed. It puts the blame on police officers. Depending on the police agency and the year, up to 77% of dismissals are attributed to the arresting officer failing to follow through on the case.
Judges can dismiss a case if an officer doesn’t complete a pre-trial interview, turn over evidence or show up to court. “It’s frustrating,” Boone said. “If I lose cases on the merits because somebody is found to be not guilty or acquitted on a charge, I can always live with that. Losing cases on technicalities. That’s a problem for me.”
As the main DWI prosecutor in the county, Boone knows the reality of cases falling through the cracks all too well. “If we get a case where discovery has been turned over, the officers have conducted their interviews and they show up to court, we’re convicting at about an 89% rate,” he shared. “We don’t lose those cases.”
Eighty-nine percent of drunk drivers held accountable if everyone does their job. A statement each police agency took issue with. When asked about the DA’s data, each one immediately disputed the numbers.
APD’s Chief Harold Medina said, “If the data we have is correct.” NMSP’s Chief Tim Johnson also noted, “You know, once you start digging into these, it’s, I think it’s a little more nuanced.” And, BCSO’s Lt. Aaron Williamson commented, “It doesn’t take into consideration all the outside, you know, factors and forces that make those numbers up.”
Below you’ll find the DA’s data breaking down the reasons why a DWI case was dismissed. Wednesday on KRQE at 5:30 p.m., the Albuquerque Police Department, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, and New Mexico State Police respond to these numbers and share what changes they’re asking for to make these cases easier on their officers.