It goes without saying that there has been a crackdown on DWI driving across the nation. New Mexico is no different. With this crackdown have come much stricter enforcement and increasingly harsh penalties and other consequences for DWI.
One trend over the last 10 years or so has been for prosecutors to identify more serious possible charges that carry much stiffer penalties. As a consequence, DWI’s may result in felony charges. These includes felony DWI along with a number of other related felony charges.
Some of the facts resulting in escalation to felony charges are well known and to be expected. The most common basis for a felony DWI charge is multiple DWI’s. In New Mexico, a 4th or greater DWI will be charged as a felony. In addition, DWI may result in other related felony charges related to injuries or death. Finally, the one that catches folks most by surprise is the felony child endangerment charge that will routinely accompany DWI charges when children are involved.
Felony charges of any kind are extremely serious. It is important to seek legal representation right away. There may be important opportunities for the defense of the charges that arise even before the charges are actually filed. If you find yourself in this situation and are looking to hire and attorney, the Albuquerque attorneys at Collins & Collins, P.C. can be reached at (505) 242-5958.
Repeat DWI Convictions Resulting in Felony Charges
Most people have heard of the 3 strikes rule. This generally applies to 3 or more felony convictions resulting in mandatory sentencing. However, the New Mexico DWI statutes have their own version of the 3 strikes rule.
In essence, a 4th or subsequent DWI conviction will be charged as a felony DWI. With each subsequent offense after the 3rd DWI, there are escalating charges and consequent felony penalties. For both 4th and 5th DWI convictions, the driver will be charged with a 4th degree felony.
The 5th conviction carries greater penalties, up to 2 years with a minimum of 1 year that cannot be suspended or deferred. DWI convictions beyond the 5th conviction are charged as 3rd degree felonies as well but again with escalating penalties including increased mandatory prison time.
What is Considered a Prior DWI for Felony Charges?
It should be kept in mind that pleas that result in ultimate dismissal of the charges may still be considered a prior for purposes of felony DWI charges and penalties.
This would include a deferred sentence resulting in a dismissal which is typically granted in 1st time DWI charges. The deferred sentence avoids jail and other penalties. It does not wipe the record clean.
DWI Resulting in Injuries
DWI’s resulting in injuries or death will also result in felony DWI charges. Fortunately, these are not nearly as common as the felony DWI for repeat offenses. However, they are far too common particularly in New Mexico which has among the highest DWI fatality rates in the nation.
There are a number of statutory provisions dealing with injuries and death related to DWI, 1) great bodily harm or death, and 2) injuries to a pregnant woman. Each carries 3rd degree felony DWI charges. In the event of great bodily harm or death resulting from DWI, the sentencing is increased by 4 years for each prior DWI conviction.
Keep in mind also, that in addition to the felony DWI charges, a person who causes the death of another while under the influence of alcohol will almost always also be charged with manslaughter.
DWI With Children Present
Felony DWI charges in the first two situations above, repeat DWI and DWI resulting in injury or death, come as no surprise to most. The felony charge that catches people most by surprise is child endangerment.
Naturally, most would agree that children should not be placed at risk of DWI and that more serious DWI charges might be in order in such situations. However, there are situations where felony child endangerment charges seem anything but fair and rightly come as a shock to the driver.
The situation where this would be the case and is actually fairly common in New Mexico is when a driver is charged with DWI while below the .08 limit. New Mexico follows an “impaired to the slightest degree” standard. This means that drivers are routinely charged with DWI at below .08.
And when a child is present, below .08 or not, you guessed it, felony endangerment charges are often tacked on.
Seek Legal Guidance Immediately for Felony DWI Charges
Felony DWI charges are quite serious. In some cases, there may be the opportunity for pre-indictment resolution of some of the charges. Specifically, there may be opportunities to avoid felony child abuse charges where the circumstances suggest this resolution.
Delay in these situations is inadvisable. A delay may result in lost opportunities for the defense of your charges. If you have been charged with felony DWI and/or related charges, seek legal guidance right away either through private counsel or the very capable lawyers at the New Mexico Public Defenders Office.