I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Throw away the key for habitual drunk drivers
Ever since four Santa Fe teenagers were killed on Old Las Vegas Highway a little over a week ago, their lives cut short in a terrible accident alleged to have been caused by an intoxicated Scott Owens, the Santa Fe New Mexican’s editorial pages have been filled with letters about drunk driving. The same thing happened a little over two and a half years ago when Dana Papst killed five members of a Las Vegas, NM, family.
One letter pointed out that Sweden has a 0.02 blood alcohol limit, and suggested that our limit of 0.08 should be reduced to that level. Another noted approvingly that in Norway a first conviction gets a drunk driver a month at hard labor the loss of driver’s license for a year, and a second conviction results in a year at hard labor and loss of driver’s license for life.
But lowering the legal blood alcohol limit would not solve the problem. What it would do is turn everyone who has a single glass of wine at dinner and then drives home into a criminal. People with 0.02 blood alcohol levels do not drive the wrong way on the interstate and kill five people.
Dana Papst’s blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit. That’s 0.32 — a level so dangerously high it can kill a person. It doesn’t kill a hardened drinker, however, who has built up a tolerance to that level of alcohol poisoning, and instead of dropping dead staggers to his car and ruins a family’s life.
When Micah Henry killed two people in Albuquerque a year and a half ago, his blood alcohol level was 0.16, twice the legal limit. The overwhelming number of drunk driving fatalities involve people with levels far above the legal limit. On Monday, the Santa Fe DA’s office released the blood test results for Scott Owens, and not surprisingly, a .16 level of intoxication was revealed.
Though I do not believe the blood alcohol limit should be lowered, I do believe that sentences should be much higher than they are. When I looked up the sentencing minimums and maximums on the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s Web site, I was stunned almost speechless by how light the sentences were:
A first offense carries a minimum sentence of 48 hours and a maximum of 90 days. For a second offense, 96 hours to 364 days. The third time gets you 30 to 364 days, the fourth 6 to 18 months, the fifth 1 to 2 years, the sixth 18 to 30 months, and the seventh 2 to 3 years.
Are they kidding?
Someone convicted of driving drunk seven times can be incarcerated for a maximum of three years? Anyone who is caught and convicted of endangering the lives and limbs of his fellow New Mexicans seven times ought to be locked up and have the key thrown away.
I’d be in favor of a life sentence for the fifth conviction, maybe even the fourth. And the third certainly ought to get you a lot more than a single year minus a day — especially if you’re at double or triple the legal limit.
Those sentencing guidelines need to be revised, and revised immediately. Repeat drunk drivers, the kind who routinely drive with blood alcohol levels well above the legal limit, need to be taken off the streets, and kept off.
Criminalizing the behavior of social drinkers who occasionally drive after one drink or two isn’t going to keep New Mexicans safe from chronic alcoholics weaving all over Old Las Vegas Highway or driving the wrong direction on the interstate. Locking up people with blood alcohol levels of 0.02 and 0.03 is not going to save lives. We do not need more laws that reasonable people think are ridiculous. We do not need to foster still more contempt for the laws than people already have.
But we do need tougher sentencing laws. If narcissistic drunks who value their own momentary pleasure above the lives of other people are sitting in prison, they can’t kill anyone.