NM will use social media to combat drunk driving

Posted at 7:47 PM, Apr 19, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Social media feeds will soon tell you if drunken driving offenders are let off too easy, New Mexico officials say.

The state will pay staffers from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to monitor court hearings by judges who are routinely lenient in drunken driving cases, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez announced Tuesday.

The group will send details about sentences to state officials, who will identify repeat offenders and the judges in tweets.

The program joins others nationwide in using social media to publicize crimes by repeat offenders, a move that has drawn scrutiny from privacy advocates. But it's unusual to target judges, and opponents have called it unethical.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving got a two-year, $800,000 contract to attend hearings in at least five New Mexico counties hit hard by drunken driving arrests and deaths. The group also offers court monitoring in other states.

The governor said the program aims to show the failure to crack down on those convicted of multiple DUI violations.

"Too many lives have been shattered by drunk drivers, and too often our justice system fails our families by going easy on the criminals," Martinez said at a news conference in Albuquerque.

The number of people killed in drunken driving crashes last year in New Mexico decreased by 28 percent, marking a 36-year low for such deaths in a state that has long struggled with high DWI rates, officials said last month.

The program comes as police departments from New England to the Southwest have taken to social media in recent years to post jail-booking photos of suspects.

Police in South Portland, Maine, post mug shots of people charged with drunken driving on its Facebook page. Officials say it is part of an effort to publicize the crime and discourage intoxicated driving.

Civil liberties advocates have decried similar postings by law enforcement agencies, saying they unfairly target suspects who have yet to receive due process in the courts.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico was reviewing the new program, spokesman Micah McCoy said.

Democratic state Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas called it a public relations stunt, saying it takes the focus off DUI prevention and tries to put the blame on judges and prosecutors.

"Blaming a judge for not enough conviction rates is like blaming (a baseball) umpire for not enough strikeouts," said Maestas, a defense lawyer who represents clients charged in drunken driving cases and has worked as a prosecutor.

He called the monitoring program "unethical" and said it puts pressure on judges for harsher sentencings regardless of the facts.