New Mexico, like all states, prohibits driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, the way New Mexico defines driving under the influence is different than other states. Also, the penalties you'll face for a DUI conviction in New Mexico will likely differ from what you would receive for a DUI offense in another state.
This article explains the circumstances under which a person can be convicted of a DUI, the penalties for DUI convictions, and some of the options that might be available to drivers facing DUI charges in New Mexico.
In order to prove a DUI charge in court, prosecutors generally must show the defendant was:
However, these two "elements" require a bit more explanation.
New Mexico's DUI law specifically makes it illegal to "drive" while under the influence. However, other state laws define the term "driver" to mean anyone "who drives or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle."
Under this definition, any person who is exercising control over or steering a vehicle is considered to be a driver and can be convicted of a DUI (if under the influence). Relevant factors for determining whether a person was exercising control over a vehicle might include things like where the person was located inside the vehicle, whether the vehicle was turned on, and whether the person was awake or asleep.
In short, although there's no bright-line rule that covers every situation, a DUI conviction does not require a moving vehicle in New Mexico.
New Mexico separates impairment into three separate categories: alcohol-based DUIs, drug-based DUIs, and per se DUIs.
A driver is considered to be under the influence of alcohol when, as a result of drinking liquor, he or she was "less able to the slightest degree, either mentally or physically, or both, to exercise the clear judgment and steady hand necessary to handle a vehicle with safety to the person and the public."
A driver who has consumed drugs can be convicted of a DUI if that drug has rendered him or her incapable of safely operating a vehicle.
The possible penalties for a DUI conviction are set by statute and vary based primarily on the number of prior DUI convictions in the driver's lifetime.
A first, second, or third DUI conviction is a misdemeanor offense and can result in the following penalties.
Up to 90 days
96 hours to 364 days
30 to 364 days
Up to $500
$500 to $1,000
$750 to $1,000
At least 24 hours
Typically, the court will place the DUI offender on probation rather than impose the maximum jail time. Probation will generally be for up to one year for a first offense and lasts one to five years for repeat violations.
During probation, the offender must comply with requirements such as treatment, supervised sobriety, random testing, and attendance at a victim impact panel. Failure to comply with probation requirements will often result in jail time.
All persons convicted of a DUI must complete a substance abuse screening prior to sentencing. The judge reviews the results of the screening in determining the proper treatment orders.
At a minimum, a first-offense DUI requires an impaired driver education course. Repeat offenders must complete a minimum 28-day inpatient treatment program (or similar court-approved treatment).
An impaired driver who had a BAC of at least .16%, refused chemical testing, or caused bodily injury to another person can be charged with "aggravated DUI." While most of the conviction penalties remain the same, an aggravated DUI conviction increases the mandatory minimum jail time.
The minimum jail time for an aggravated DUI is:
An impaired driver who was transporting a minor passenger will also face additional penalties if convicted of the separate crime of "Driving While Intoxicated with a Minor in the Vehicle."
In New Mexico, a fourth or subsequent DUI conviction is considered a felony. A fourth offense carries six to eighteen months in prison, inpatient treatment, and up to $5,000 in fines. The penalties increase for subsequent violations.
A DUI can also be charged as a felony if anyone was killed or greatly injured. "Homicide by vehicle" while impaired is a second-degree felony and carries up to 15 years in prison and up to $12,500 in fines.
A driver will generally lose driving privileges for a DUI conviction, but driver's license penalties can be imposed even before the criminal trial. A driver can be penalized for a DUI conviction, a chemical test failure, or an unlawful test refusal. The penalties vary depending on the type of offense, the driver's level of impairment, and the number of prior DUI-related revocations.
Simply put, license-related penalties can result from a DUI arrest and/or conviction.
After the common observational sobriety tests—such as walking a straight line—the officer will generally request the driver to submit to a chemical test. To request such an intrusive test, the officer must have probable cause to believe the driver was unlawfully impaired. Drivers who refuse to complete the test or fail a test with a BAC of .08% or more will face license suspension.
When a driver refuses a lawfully requested chemical test, the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) will revoke the driver's license for one year.
Also, the fact that the driver refused testing can be brought up in the criminal trial to prove guilt. And the officer can apply for a search warrant to obtain a blood sample—by force, if necessary.
If the chemical test results show an unlawful BAC concentration, the MVD will suspend the driver's license for six months (one year if the driver has any prior DUI-related suspensions or revocations).
All DUI convictions are reported to the MVD. Upon receiving a conviction abstract, the MVD will revoke the driver's license for:
Drivers suspended or revoked for a DUI-related offense can apply to the MVD for restricted driving privileges. If approved, the driver can operate a motor vehicle during the suspension or revocation period, but only with an installed ignition interlock device (IID).
Offenders who caused death or bodily injury are not eligible for restricted driving privileges.
At sentencing, the court will order the offender to install an ignition interlock device on any operated vehicle. The IID must be maintained for:
During this period, the offender is only permitted to drive if the vehicle is equipped with an IID. A driver who obtained a restricted license during the suspension period can receive credit for time served.
Drivers under the age of 21 are subject to a lower BAC limit. Any driver under the age of 21 who is caught driving with a BAC of at least .02% will have his or her license suspended for one year.
Because an underage DUI offense is not a criminal violation, it does not result in jail time or fines. However, an underage driver with a BAC of at least .08% or who is "under the influence" as defined above can be charged with a standard DUI and face the standard DUI penalties.
If you've been arrested for a DUI in New Mexico, get in contact with an experienced DUI attorney in your area. A qualified DUI lawyer can tell you how the law applies in your case and help you choose the best course of action.