New Mexico is launching a controversial new program this June that will use Twitter to publicize the cases of repeat DWI offenders in the state and will identify the judges overseeing the cases. New Mexico has partnered with the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), giving the nonprofit organization a 2-year, $800,000 contract to monitor court proceedings in DWI cases. The program is federal-grant funded and will support six employees who will keep track of about 200 DWI cases per year. Four of the employees will be attending the court hearings. The program is monitoring cases in six New Mexico counties with most DWI cases. These counties are: Bernalillo, Doña Ana, McKinley, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and San Juan. New Mexico has a history of high DWI rates. However, in 2015 the state experienced a 36-year low in the number of people killed in drunk driving crashes.
The monitoring program was announced by Governor Susana Martinez on April 19th. According to her, the program "aims to show the failure to crack down on those convicted of multiple DUI violations." Martinez "hopes the plan will target generous plea bargains, lenient sentencing, absent police officers and low bond amounts that let suspected offenders out on the streets to possibly continue drinking and driving." The Twitter account of New Mexico's Department of Transportation will be used to provide updates as well as the outcomes of DWI cases as the cases move through the court system in the selected counties.
The program may even follow a case past its conclusion to probation or parole. The deputy secretary of the transportation department, Loren Hatch, stated that "the department isn't sure whether it will attach a person's mug shot to a tweet, but that the tweets will include already public information, such as a person's name, the date of the suspected offense and what happened in the case proceeding that day." According to Hatch, broadcasting the cases over social media is not about publicly shaming the defendants, but rather it is about holding the justice system accountable. However, according to the Albuquerque Journal, "several officials at the news conference Tuesday said if individuals choose to drink and drive and are arrested, they deserve the public attention."
Governor Martinez stated that "By shining a light on our courtrooms, New Mexicans can see first-hand how DWI cases are being handled." The program is already facing criticism from privacy advocates and the ACLU is reviewing the program. In addition, targeting judges has been called unethical by opponents like State Representative Antonio Maestas who stated "Blaming a judge for not enough conviction rates is like blaming (a baseball) umpire for not enough strikeouts."
Come June, we will see how this monitoring program works in practice and what effect it has on the DWI cases that are being broadcasted to the world,140 characters at a time.
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