Editorial: DWI laws need to be enforced, not increased

What happened to Aileen Smith as she drove through New Mexico on one of the happiest journeys in a woman's life is a mind-numbing tragedy.

But adding to the state's DWI laws in the name of getting tough on repeat offenders won't prevent the same tragedy from happening to someone else — unless and until New Mexico enforces laws already on its books.

Smith was seven months pregnant on that day in June, and driving from her home in Colorado Springs with her husband, Zach Smith, to a baby shower in San Diego. She and her unborn son, Dimitri, were injured in a crash caused by a suspected drunken driver.

Dimitri's injuries were fatal. He was delivered by emergency Caesarean section and lived about a minute.

Repeat DWI offender Ramon Hernandez, 43, of Santa Fe is accused of causing the crash. He now denies driving the vehicle that smashed in the Smiths' SUV. His charges include felony fourth-offense DWI and vehicular homicide.

And his legal road to the Smiths' nightmare has been a long one, in which justice has repeatedly hit a roadblock.

His first DWI charge was in May 2000; he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to fines and DWI school, which court records say he did not complete. His second DWI charge came in May 2003; MVD says he was again convicted. DWI arrest No. 3 came less than a year later, on New Year's Day 2004, yet he was charged with second-offense DWI, convicted and sentenced to 364 days in jail. All but four days of that sentence were suspended, and he received three years of unsupervised probation and was ordered to perform 48 hours of community service, attend alcohol screening, have an ignition interlock installed in his vehicle and pay a $500 fine and $215 in court costs.

Surprise, surprise, he didn't. Hernandez case No. 3 was resolved when he got credit for $453 in unpaid fines after serving 11 days in jail. So DWI No. 3 got him less than two weeks behind bars.

The Smiths and Gov. Susana Martinez want to toughen up the state's DWI laws in the wake of the tragic loss of Dimitri. That's fine.

But what if the state's current lawfully mandated punishments had actually been enforced before that day in June? If on DWI No. 1 Hernandez had been forced to serve up to 90 days in jail, lost his driver's license for six to 12 months, had to get an ignition interlock for a year, attend DWI school, undergo alcohol evaluation and perform community service?

What if DWIs No. 2 and 3 were recorded and punished as such, with increased jail time and fines? If all DWIs were tracked for future prosecutions, if DWI was a no-plea-deal offense, if probation and parole were enforced with alcohol monitoring and further violations meant jail?

Between DWI No. 3 and alleged DWI No. 4 Hernandez had his license suspended for an open container violation. He was ordered to pay a $75 fine. He didn't. And if in fact he was driving the vehicle that hit the Smiths, it was on a revoked and suspended license.

It shows amazing strength of character that the Smiths want to partner with the state in which they lost their son to toughen DWI laws and ensure another family doesn't suffer their heart-wrenching loss.

But everyone involved should ask what would have happened if the state enforced the laws it already has.

— Albuquerque Journal

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