SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – First Judicial District Attorney has been under pressure to prosecute drunk and impaired drivers around Santa Fe County. She says her office has made great progress, but some cases fall through the cracks – because law enforcement doesn’t cooperate. Some law enforcement agencies are telling a different story.
District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, the subject of a recent Larry Barker investigation into unprosecuted DWI cases, recently spoke with lawmakers on the challenges in prosecuting DWI. She denies allegations in the Larry Barker story that hundreds of drunk drivers went unprosecuted and provided her own data on the matter. That data shows that a handful of cases do go unprosecuted, and Carmack-Altwies says the big challenge is getting the necessary evidence from law enforcement agencies.
“This is a statewide problem – it’s a good problem because we have improved technology, we’ve improved officer accountability, we have improved the total capacity to prosecute. However, police agencies have to turn over to prosecutors, which in turn have to turn over to criminal defense attorneys, approximately 15 to 20 items per arrest,” Carmack-Altwies told lawmakers in a Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee meeting. “And if any of those things are not turned over in my district in particular, we have judges that dismiss those cases.”
The latest data provided by the DA’s office shows the office is in the process of handling more than 300 DWI cases as of mid-August. Seven cases were dismissed because of law enforcement issues, according to the DA’s office.
In one case, for example, law enforcement allege that a drunk driver with a breath sample more than double the legal limit drove their car off the road. The case went to the DA’s office, but they say they never got a copy of the “Intoxilyzer logbook” from law enforcement, even after two requests. So, the DA’s office dismissed the case and declined to prosecute.
KRQE News 13 reached out to the Edgewood Police Department to hear their side of the story. Police Chief Roger Jimenez told KRQE that in that case, they sent the DA all the required discovery. But something on the DA’s end – maybe issues with their IT department – meant the DA wasn’t able to access the records, Jimenez says.
Regardless of whose office dropped the ball, it’s clear that there are sometimes communication issues that lead to dismissed cases. Lawmakers in the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee at the Roundhouse asked Carmack-Altwies what could be done to make sure evidence gets transferred correctly.
Carmack-Altwies says her office has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a tech system to help let the DA’s office access files directly out of the police database. In the meantime, it’s worth remembering that just because a case is dismissed, it doesn’t mean the case is dead. The DA can refile cases dismissed “without prejudice” as long as it’s within the statute of limitations, which is one year for a first offense.