Municipal and Magistrate Courts of ‘no record’ and non-attorney judges

By Linda Atkinson
Executive Director
DWI Resource Center

(continued discussion on DWI multiple offenders)

DWI is the most commonly committed crime (followed closely by domestic violence) in New Mexico and across the country. These crimes – for the most part – are charged as misdemeanors and filed in lower jurisdiction courts – in New Mexico that would be municipal court – or in state magistrate court. Metro Court in Albuquerque is also a lower jurisdiction court – with two vast differences from the other municipal and magistrate courts.

The two major differences are;

  1. Metro is a court of record – the other municipal and magistrate courts are not.
  2. Metro Court requires the judges to be attorneys, the municipal and magistrate courts do not.

In fact the requirement is that the magistrate judges have a high school diploma or GED, and that qualifies them to be a judge. Most municipal courts are the same unless there is a city ordinance that requires other qualifications.

The state has put literally millions of dollars into automating the courts with the intent to make the records easily accessible for the courts/prosecutors around the state. The problem is – there are still many issues that make it difficult for prosecutors to access prior records of DWI offenders – so our multiple offenders can many times elude the correct charging of their DWI offense. Say rather than a DWI 3, it will only be charged as a DWI 1 – unless the prosecutor can stay on top of getting these records, and there are many who just don’t try or don’t make time.

In the end, the multiple offender is able to elude either full prosecution or appropriate sanctions for the true DWI offense it should be.

Wouldn’t it make sense to have all courts that handle DWI courts’ of record and require judges to be attorneys?

In coming blogs –

Leveling the playing field – what’s in a plea deal
Purchasing a vehicle without a valid drivers license
Limited or lax oversight of the ignition interlock providers
Follow the money