The New Mexico Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion that clarified what punishment applies to ATV drivers who are intoxicated and who cause an accident resulting in injury or another person‘s death.
In the Natoni case, the Court held that the relatively lenient penalty scheme in the OHMVA excluded violations where the accident resulted in a person‘s injury or death. Additionally, the Court held that the penalties for driving an ATV while intoxicated were the same under the New Mexico DWI statute and the OHMVA.
The facts of the case involve the Defendant crashing his ATV into a telephone pole on a public road while under the influence of alcohol. The Defendant‘s passenger was injured in the accident. Defendant was found guilty and sentenced under New Mexico‘s DWI statute. His sentence was ultimately reduced to 90 days in jail and a $250 fine. The Defendant challenged his sentencing under the DWI statute on appeal, arguing that he should have been sentenced under the OHMVA and received a $10 fine. The Court of appeals disagreed and affirmed the sentence and fine.
The Court clarified that the OHMVA involves the operation of off-highway vehicles, but it specifically excludes violations that “caused or contributed to the cause of an accident resulting in injury or death to a person.” Since the accident resulted in the injury of the Defendant‘s passenger, Defendant could not be sentenced under the OHMVA.
The Court then went on to explain why the penalty for DWI under the OHMVA is the same as under the DWI statute. The OHMVA includes driving under the influence as one of the 12 prohibited actions while operating an off-highway vehicle. However, the OHMVA does not address the punishment for this specific violation in its sentencing scheme.
The Court reasoned that the punishment for driving a while intoxicated was the same as under the DWI statute for 2 reasons: (1) the section that prohibits driving while intoxicated in the OHMVA makes a reference to the DWI statute and (2) the DWI statute applies to an ATV because an ATV is a “vehicle” for the purposes of the statute.
Section 66-3-1010.3(A)(2) of the OHMVA prohibits operating an off-highway vehicle “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs as provided by Section 66-8-102 (the New Mexico DWI Statute).” However, DWI is the only violation not included in the OHMVA penalty scheme.
Even though the wording of Section 66-3-1010.3(A)(2) could have been more clear, (1) the fact that it specifically refers to the DWI statute, (2) does not include DWI in the OHMVA penalty scheme, and (3) in light of other legislative actions punishing DWI more severely, the Court concluded that the New Mexico Legislature meant to punish DWI under the OHMVA the same way as other DWI offenses.
If you are charged with a DWI while ATV‘ing, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The recreational character of your drinking and driving make it no less serious under the DWI laws of New Mexico.