DWI conviction for repeat offender
A Reserve, N.M. man, arrested near Magdalena last March for driving while intoxicated, was found guilty in Socorro Magistrate Court on Feb. 21 of a third DWI. This is the second time Bruton has been convicted of a third DWI offense; he pleaded no contest to a third DWI offense in Reserve Magistrate Court in 2005, after being charged there with a fourth DWI in 2004.
In New Mexico, the first three DWI offenses are considered misdemeanors. Any DWI offenses beyond the third are felonies. However, defendants are sometimes offered plea bargains that allow them to plead guilty or no contest to lesser charges, in the interest of conserving resources and resolving cases that might otherwise take years to dispose of.
Alvin Dean Bruton, 54, was originally charged on March 17, 2011 with a fifth DWI, a felony offense.
Magdalena Marshal’s Deputy Terry Flanagan testified on Feb. 21 that he pulled Bruton over last March after observing his driving, took him to the Marshal’s Office, and administered two breath tests, both of which gave a .15 result. He then drove Bruton to the Socorro County Detention Center, where he was booked and incarcerated.
A criminal complaint was filed against Bruton, with a note in the record indicating the District Attorney’s Office had given approval for Bruton to be charged with a felony DWI.
Six months and two court-appointed public defenders later, Bruton was found competent to stand trial in October 2011.
Ten days later, the charges against Bruton were reduced from a fifth, felony DWI to a third, misdemeanor DWI. And a month after that, Bruton filed a motion to bring the Bible back to the courts.
In January, Bruton’s current public defender, Attorney Twila Hoon, filed motions on Bruton’s behalf to exclude the results of the breath test, and to exclude any discussion of prior “bad acts,” including previous DWI arrests — at least five of them — and previous DWI convictions — at least three.
During the jury trial, Hoon raised issues with the date setting on the IR8000 Breath Test Machine, which was noted to be off by one day, and with the accuracy and reliability of Breath Test Machines in general. She raised the possibility that the slurring of speech noticed by Deputy Flanagan could have been due to Bruton’s ill-fitting dentures, and that any unsteadiness in his gait could have been due to medical issues stemming from previous injuries to his ankle.
Bruton took the stand and testified that mechanical issues with the vehicle he had been driving had caused the tires to wobble. He testified he had candy in his mouth during the breath test which should have invalidated the results, and said he had been denied the right to have a blood test, although he was driven past the hospital where one could have been performed on the way to the detention center.
In his summation, Assistant District Attorney Keith Valles argued it was an open and shut case, and that the state’s only burden was to prove beyond a reasonable doubt — although not beyond any doubt whatsoever — that Bruton was driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or greater. He said testimony by Jason Avery, Breath Alcohol Section Line Supervisor of the state’s Department of Health, indicated there were no issues with the breath test machine used on Bruton.
In her summation, Hoon argued that there was plenty of reasonable doubt, based on the absence of any video or audio recording of the arrest, no field sobriety test had been given and the time was wrong on the breath test machine.
The jury deliberated for only 20 minutes before finding Bruton guilty.
Bruton, who is currently under house arrest and living with a relative in Edgewood, N.M., has not yet been sentenced.
Theresa Rosales, director of the county’s DWI Compliance Program, expressed some frustration, not over the verdict but over the process that resulted in Bruton being convicted on a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
“I understand that it saves the state money,” Rosales said. “They say, if you take this (deal), we won’t bind it over to district court. But if we keep pleading down all these DWI charges, what are we teaching the drunk driver? How are we helping him?”
Rosales said there was a plus side to the conviction, in that sentencing requirements and monitoring of compliance are tougher than they were in 2005, when Bruton was last convicted of DWI. However, she’d like to see a line drawn on plea bargains.
“How do we make sure this is the last time he drives drunk?” Rosales asked. “And if he chooses to drink and drive again, how do we make sure he’s not offered a plea bargain again?”
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