DUI Defenses in New Mexico
There are many different defenses that can potentially be used to combat a charge of driving under the influence. When a defendant is convicted of a DUI, the prosecution will depend on the arresting officer’s testimony to establish that the driver was exhibiting questionable behavior behind the wheel of the vehicle. Such questionable behavior may include driving at slow or uneven speeds, changing or weaving lanes without signaling, crossing the median of a highway, and running a light or stop sign. The defense will argue that, without more proof, such behavior is not indicative of driving drunk but rather could be completely unrelated to the consumption of alcohol.
In addition to the arresting officer’s testimony regarding driving behavior, additional evidence is usually collected when the officer apprehends the defendant. Upon questioning the defendant, the officer may notice more behavior related to alcohol consumption, such as slurring of or incoherent speech, blood shot eyes or enlarged pupils. Once again the defense will argue that these signs, while potentially related to alcohol consumption, are not indicative of its occurrence. In other words, these symptoms could result from activities independent of drinking such as stress, lack of sleep, or allergies. In addition, many people are nervous when being stopped by a police officer, which can affect their behavior as well.
There are also defenses one can use to combat evidence collected by the arresting officer during a field sobriety test. This is a test of one’s motor and cognitive skills rather than a chemical test of their blood, for example, and includes simple exercises such as having the defendant stand on one leg or touch his extended finger to his nose. Similar defenses exist for these field tests as are available in context of the suspect being apprehended. The defense could argue that such test results are amplified by a lack of sleep or medications that can make these tests much more challenging. Many people (most notably the elderly) have physical illnesses that prevent them from performing these tests properly anyway. The defense attorney has the right at trial to cross-examine the arresting officer to question him about the circumstances of the arrest and the behavior of the defendant at the time in question.
While field sobriety tests potentially show inebriation, a chemical test of BAC is much more accurate in revealing the level of sobriety of a given driver. New Mexico has an implied consent law that forces all drivers to submit to a chemical test such as a blood test or a breathalyzer. Failure to adhere can mean suspension of license as well as giving the prosecution additional evidence to use at trial regarding the defendant’s culpability. Challenging these tests can be more difficult than the using the above defenses, since a chemical test revealing one’s BAC seems to be hard line evidence of their intoxication. However, the defense could argue that the breathalyzer device used in question was faulty or not calibrated correctly; such devices often malfunction and resulting BAC levels can be skewed based on things consumed such as food as opposed to alcohol. In addition to questioning the accuracy of the device, the defense attorney should subpoena police records to determine if the actual device used on the defendant was properly maintained. The defense may also call expert witnesses to the stand to testify that such devices malfunction regularly and cannot be relied on with reasonable accuracy.
New Mexico law allows the police to determine which type of chemical test a driver takes. However, the driver may decline to take a blood test if willing to submit to a urine or breath test. If the driver refuses to submit to a blood test, the police must acquire a warrant to draw blood if they feel it is necessary. If not, the driver will be forced to submit to alternative testing. Such tests must be performed by a certified individual (such as a doctor or nurse) and can be used as evidence of intoxication or sobriety.
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