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DUI Legal Process in New Mexico

The DUI process in New Mexico involves an arraignment, a preliminary hearing, and possibly a trial and an appeal as well.  When a person is arrested for DUI in New Mexico, the arresting officer will inform the accused of the charges against him, or alternatively bring the defendant before a judge.  When pulling over a driver for suspected DUI, the police do not need a warrant to search the vehicle for evidence to aid their charge.  The police will also typically search the driver’s body and clothing as well.

The first stage of the process is booking at the police station.  The driver will be fingerprinted and photographed and personal property will be collected and stored.  After a person is arrested and taken to the police station, there is an arraignment where the convict pleads guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the charges in front of a judge.  It is at this stage that a defendant may request to speak with his attorney.  If he has no lawyer, he has the right to be appointed one by the state.  Then dates will be set for pre-trial hearings.

On arrest, convicts may have to pay bail to be released.  This is based on the suspect’s previous criminal history as well as seriousness of the offense in question and the suspect’s behavior around police.  Often a suspect is released on his “own recognizance”, meaning no bail is paid but rather the suspect merely signs a form promising to appear in court when summoned.  Bail is normally granted in most DUI cases in New Mexico, and a defendant with a DUI charge is typically entitled to a preliminary hearing in the state.  During this hearing, the court will analyze if a crime has in fact been committed and whether the convicted person is probably in fact guilty of the crime.  Witnesses and evidence can be offered by the state and then refuted by the defense.  If the court determines the defendant is likely guilty of the charges brought against him, the defendant must plead guilty, or alternatively go to trial by pleading not guilty to the charges.  In most cases, arraignment is the last exposure in court for the defendant, since many defendants are opposed by strong evidence of driving intoxicated.

However, if a plea is not granted or the sides refuse to compromise there will be a trial.  This will involve both the prosecution and the defense making preliminary opening statements, followed by the prosecution presenting its evidence and witnesses.  The defense has the option of cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses.  The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  The defense may rely on this burden and hope the state is unsuccessful with its charge, or additionally the defense can bring forward its own case and evidence to rebut the evidence offered by the prosecution.  Criminal trials in New Mexico require a jury unless the defendant specifically requests a bench trial where the judge or a panel of judges decides the outcome at their discretion without the assistance of a jury.  If there is a jury, the members are selected from a larger group of potential jurors based on both the prosecutions and the defenses preferences, as both sides have the ability to exclude potential jurors by using “peremptory challenges”.

Defendants in criminal trials in New Mexico are entitled to speedy trials, meaning they are to be tried within nine to twelve months of arrest.  During the trial, the defendant has the right to confront the accuser and witnesses, meaning the right to cross-examine or question witnesses who testify against the defendant.  After closing arguments are made, the jury will be issued its instructions by the judge and will deliberate until they agree on a verdict.  The verdict reached by the jury must be unanimous, meaning all jurors are in agreement as to the outcome.

If a defendant loses the case and is convicted, he has the option to appeal the charge in New Mexico to a higher court for review.  If the defendant loses the case (through trial or on appeal), there are several potential penalties, including fines and prison sentences, depending on the nature of the conviction and the defendant’s previous criminal history and behavior.  The defendant may also be subject to some sort of probation or alternatively community service programs to promote public welfare.  Some states including New Mexico will even force convicts to install “ignition interlock” devices in their cars to prevent driving above a certain BAC level.

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