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Strict Liability Criminal Offenses and DWI in New Mexico

According to a study by the New Mexico Department of Transportation, there were 2,599 alcohol-related automobile crashes in New Mexico in 2008. Of these, 765 involved serious injuries, and 143 fatalities. These numbers were all higher than the national average.

DWI is clearly a very serious problem in New Mexico. Perhaps for this reason, DWI is generally a strict liability crime in New Mexico and elsewhere, which means that it need not be proven that the defendant intentionally drove drunk. Proof of intent in these situations would be quite challenging to say the least largely defeating the goal of eradicating DWI in the state.

Strict liability crimes differ from specific intent crimes. Specific intent crimes require the perpetrator to have some kind of intent to perform a further act or accomplish a certain goal. A criminal prosecutor must prove that a person acted knowingly and purposefully to achieve a certain goal–murder someone, injure someone, take someone‘s money–in order to obtain a conviction for a specific intent crime.

In contrast, strict liability crimes do not require proof of a specific intent on the part of the defendant. A person may be found guilty of a strict liability crime even if they did not intend the outcome of their actions. DWI in New Mexico is a strict liability crime in that even though the prosecution will have to prove the elements of the offense under NMSA § 66-8-102, there is no additional requirement to prove specific intent by the defendant to drive while intoxicated.

In New Mexico, the prosecutor must show that the defendant was under the influence of either intoxicating liquor or drugs while driving a vehicle within the state. A prosecutor will have to prove all of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a DWI conviction against a defendant. However, there is no requirement to prove any intent to drive under the influence of either drugs or alcohol.

In recent years New Mexico courts have made a clear distinction regarding strict liability DWI depending on whether the vehicle is in motion or not. If the vehicle is in motion, DWI is a strict liability crime where the prosecution is not required to prove specific intent by the defendant to drive while intoxicated.

However, after the State v. Sims (NMSC-2010-027) opinion, if an officer comes upon a vehicle that is not in motion, the prosecution may have to prove intent to drive while intoxicated. This can be the case when a person is sleeping or resting in their car in an attempt to sober up, keep warm, or “sleep it off.” The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that when a vehicle is stationary, the prosecution will have to prove either a general intent to drive or circumstantial evidence of past driving.

“General intent” means that the prosecution will have to prove that an act was committed deliberately and not by accident. The prosecution does not have to prove that the defendant intended the exact harm that occurred. In the context of proving DWI when a vehicle was not moving, the state will have to prove that, beyond having actual control of the automobile–say, by sitting in the driver‘s seat–the prosecution must prove that the defendant intended to actually drive the car while impaired a was not just sitting in the driver‘s seat to keep warm or sober up.
Circumstantial evidence of past driving can be shown by the defendant‘s own admissions, the position of the defendant in the vehicle, the position of the keys, the location of the vehicle next to the highway or road, other witness accounts, and similar information.

If you are charged with a DWI, it is advisable to seek the guidance of an experienced DWI attorney.

DISCLAIMER

Related Reading:
Sleeping While Intoxicated No Longer a Crime in New Mexico!
Proposed New Jury Instruction to Address Sleeping While Intoxicated
DWI Without Driving: Passenger Liability for DWI!

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys