Repeat drunken-driving offenders would face stiffer penalties under a bill that passed the House Judiciary Committee on Monday.
House Bill 175, which was approved by a 9-7 vote, would increase prison sentences for fourth and subsequent DWI offenses and make eight or more offenses a second-degree felony.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Vickie Perea, R-Belen, now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
The bill is one of several DWI bills pending in the Legislature.
House Bill 10 would increase the requirements for removal of an ignition interlock device before reinstatement of a driver’s license and require home Breathalyzer devices for an offender under house arrest. It passed the House last year but never reached the Senate floor.
Another bill (House Bill 190) would provide that the ignition interlock requirement only applies to offenders driving under the influence of alcohol, not drugs. Yet another bill (House Bill 196), would make it a crime to cause a minor child to tamper with an ignition interlock device.
HB 175 would not change the penalties for conviction on a first, second or third DWI. But a person convicted of a fourth DWI, a fourth-degree felony, would face 30 months in prison, up from 18 months. And 18 months of that could not be suspended or deferred.
The penalties increase with each subsequent offense. An eighth conviction is a second degree felony and the offender would receive a 12-year prison sentence, of which 10 years cannot be suspended or deferred.
A similar measure sponsored by Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Rio Rancho, died in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee in 2013.
Repeat offenders make news. Robert Ortiz, 51, was arrested in December on what police said was his 11th time driving drunk. John P. Chavez was arrested on his 11th DWI charge in 2010 after an eight-year sentence for running over a Colorado couple in 2003.
In 2011, people with two or more convictions, represented 39 percent of the drivers convicted of DWI in Santa Fe County. Of the 668 convictions, 259 people were found guilty of a second or subsequent offense. That included 20 convicted of four DWIs and one with 12.
The New Mexico State Department of Corrections, the New Mexico Sheriffs Association, the Department of Public Safety, the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division and the Mothers against Drunk Driving chapter in New Mexico are supporting the harsher penalties.
But Ousama Rasheed, past president the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, cited financial concerns associated with holding drunken drivers in prison for longer periods.
“It does not seem like anybody looked at the financial side of this,” he said. “I don’t see how good conscious you can support this bill.”
According to the fiscal impact report for Lewis’s 2013 bill, the measure could have cost the state up to $2.6 million per year.
Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Cibola, said he wanted to know why more wasn’t being done to help offenders at the first, second or third offense rather than increasing prison terms for those with four or more convictions.
“I hear these bills over and over again,” Alcon said. “Help me take care of the problem in the beginning, and I will help you lock up the ones who don’t make it.”
As a rebuttal to the concerns presented, former police officer Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, said that the families of those who die as a result of DWI crashes don’t care about finances.
“What do we say to the victim?” Pacheco asked. “All they know is that their family member has been ripped away from them.”
Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or email@example.com.