It’s been two years since a law passed to keep people who’ve racked up eight or more DWI convictions behind bars for a decade, at minimum.

On Special Assignment, KRQE News 13 tracked down dozens of those cases and discovered a lot them are not ending in tougher prison sentences.

“We have a clear problem with drinking and driving in New Mexico,” Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes (R – Albuquerque) said.

She sponsored a bill that became law on July 1, 2016 to toughen up prison sentences for repeat drunk drivers. 

Read: Senate Bill 118, “Increase DWI Penalties” 

It is targeting people, like 62-year-old Steve Martinez, who have kept police busy over the years.

“Stay there! Get on the ground,” an Albuquerque Police officer ordered Martinez on March 18, 2017.

APD body camera video shows the officer chasing Martinez after stop sticks blew out his truck’s tires. All because he didn’t stop at a DWI checkpoint, police said.

When police caught up to Martinez, they arrested him for aggravated DWI.

In January, Martinez became the first person in Bernalillo County to get a 10-year prison sentence for an eighth DWI conviction, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The max he would’ve gotten before the 2016 law change was three years.

“In those cases, the only place that they really should be is behind bars where they can’t hurt anybody,” Rep. Maestas Barnes said.

News 13 wanted to see if that’s really what’s happening. How often is an arrest actually ending in a conviction and a tougher prison sentence?

Here’s what data from the state’s Administrative Office of the District Attorneys shows.

From July 1, 2016 through May 20, 2018, DA’s offices in New Mexico have seen more than 70 cases of someone accused of an eighth or subsequent DWI. 

Most of those cases are still pending.

Of the 30 closed cases, only seven ended in convictions on the tougher charges.

The other 23 ended in dismissals, an acquittal or lesser DWI charges.

That’s what happened to Alfonso Ingo. New Mexico State Police said they arrested him for his eighth DWI near Santa Teresa last year, but he pled guilty months later to only a third offense DWI.

He spent less than three months in jail and got a sentence of two years on probation, according to the Doña Ana County District Attorney’s Office.

In Bernalillo County, Santiago Muñoz was expected to be the first to face the tougher penalty following his arrest just a month after the new law.

The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office said it was his tenth DWI, but his pending case online now lists it as his fifth.

News 13 went to Bernalillo County Deputy District Attorney Guinevere Ice to discuss the difference between what police and prosecutors find when building their cases.

“Generally what it’s an issue of is there’s older prior DWI convictions, and the actual certified paperwork that we need to prove that the defendant is guilty is not around anymore,” she said.

While prosecutors have to dig up courthouse documents to prove every past conviction, an officer arresting someone relies on numbers in a national crime database.

“I’ve seen it listed in the NCIC, convictions from the ’70s. I’ve never been able to obtain paperwork for a DWI conviction from the 1970s,” Ice explained.

That means cases that start out in court as an eighth DWI based on an officer’s arrest report, may not actually be an eighth offense by court standards. 

It’s up to a judge to decide how many prior convictions the prosecution proved at the sentencing stage.

In Ronald Gleason’s case, though, he didn’t leave it all in the hands of a judge and jury.

Farmington Police stopped him for drunk driving last year. 

“She said he was coming down going 95, 100 so…” one officer at the scene described the call that led them to Gleason.

He already had a case pending for his 7th DWI charge, so another arrest marked his 8th.

“I just don’t want to sit here and fight with you guys. I have a bad criminal history with all you guys too,” Gleason told officers. 

Gleason later pled guilty to both instead of taking it to trial.

He is now doing the prison time—three years for a 7th DWI, plus 10 years for his 8th.

In all but one conviction for an eighth or subsequent DWI, a judge has given the minimum ten-year sentence.

One man got the max of twelve years.

That was in San Juan County, which easily has the most cases of people arrested for eight or more DWIs.