New Mexico DUI laws

New Mexico DUI laws

by Corie Lynn Rosen, December 2009

Although this state boasts everything from verdant forests and mountain ski lodges to racetracks, it is the desert Redlands that most people think of when they hear "New Mexico." Those unique deserts, made famous by Georgia O'Keefe and made infamous by Billy the Kid before her, bring thousands of tourists to Santa Fe and the surrounding areas each year. Those tourists come to sightsee, relax, and enjoy themselves, often indulging in more than a few cocktails in the process.

New Mexico may seem like an ideal vacation spot, but travelers and residents should be careful not to drink and drive or they will find themselves in a world of trouble. New Mexico takes a no-nonsense approach to drinking and driving and the state's strict DUI laws should be understood by everyone planning to spend time here.

In New Mexico, an arrest for DUI triggers both an administrative case and a criminal case. The administrative case is conducted by the New Mexico driving authority and can result in suspension or revocation of driving privileges. The criminal case is brought in state court and can result in hefty fines, jail time, and other harsh punishments.

The criminal case, like criminal DUI cases in many other states, may be prosecuted based on two possible theories of liability. The first of these is the per se theory. Under per se theory the prosecution will put on evidence that the accused's blood alcohol level exceeded the legal limit, as evinced by the accused's blood, breath, or urine test(s) administered at the time of arrest. In New Mexico, as in most other states the legal limit is .08% blood alcohol content. In recent years nearly all the states that used .10% as the legal limit for adult intoxication have switched to a .08% limit, creating relative uniformity in the law.

In New Mexico, when a person's blood alcohol meets or exceeds the current .08% limit he is deemed intoxicated, or per se guilty of driving under the influence. Although the per se theory does seem to create a clear legal rule, test results are not always reliable and the per se theory alone cannot be used to convict as often as one might think. Even where the prosecution can show that the accused's blood alcohol level met or exceeded the legal limit, intervening factors such as the accused's metabolism, the reliability of the test, or the method of administration may make it implausible or even irresponsible for a court to rely exclusively on blood alcohol test results in convicting a DUI defendant.

When blood alcohol tests cannot be used as reliable evidence because they are unavailable or inconclusive, the prosecution will proceed on a traditional theory of criminal liability. Under the traditional, or common law theory, liability arises from driving under the influence. This theory is a somewhat subjective one, and observations made by the arresting officer are often the primary source of evidence. In a traditional theory case and appearance, speech pattern, driving pattern, and performance on field sobriety tests may all be introduced to prove intoxication.

Although New Mexico DUI are similar to those of other states, a unique program called Operation DWI allows New Mexico to crack down on drunk driving without changing its laws or punishment scheme. Under Operation DWI, New Mexico sets up a variety of local checkpoints at various places in the state for certain weeks every year. Drivers who appear intoxicated are stopped at these checkpoints and the number of DUI arrests typically increases Operation DWI during checkpoint weeks.

Whether arrested at a checkpoint or otherwise, anyone convicted of DUI in New Mexico can expect up to ninety days of jail time and up to seven hundred dollars in fines and costs for a first offense. Additional offenses cause the punishment to increase proportionately and jail time and fines can add up to years in lost time and thousands in lost dollars. Anyone hoping to avoid the harsh punishment and embarrassment associated with DUI should heed the old advice:don't drink and drive -- it's the only guaranteed protection.