New Mexico state senator found guilty of drunken driving

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico state Sen. Richard Martinez has been found guilty of aggravated drunken driving and reckless driving in connection with a June car crash, a state district court judge ruled on Tuesday.

Judge Francis Mathew delivered the verdicts on misdemeanor charges against the former magistrate judge and prominent Democratic legislator in connection with a June 28 wreck in the community of Española. Martinez’s car hit another vehicle that was stopped at a red traffic light, injuring Martinez and two people in the stationary vehicle.

Police say Martinez refused a blood-alcohol test after the crash. Police body-camera video, which was a central exhibit at trial, showed Martinez fumbling over a field sobriety test and reacting with disbelief from a hospital bed when notified that he would be placed under arrest and could lose his driving privileges.

Martinez left the courtroom without comment and must return later for sentencing.

Special Assistant Attorney General Mark Probasco said the reckless driving charge carries a mandatory five-day jail sentence, plus at least 48 hours for aggravated driving while intoxicated.

“The defendant made the choice to drink. Second, he made the choice to drive impaired. Third, the consequences,” Probasco said in closing statements of the trial. “He is not above the law, not even a senator, not even this defendant.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged Martinez to resign from the Senate.

“There is no way to square the circle,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “Drunken driving is an intolerable scourge in our state, and our elected leaders must hold themselves to the highest possible standard of behavior.”

Top Senate Democrats recommended removing Martinez from his influential post as judiciary committee chairman when the Legislature convenes in January.

“The time has come for the New Mexico State Senate to take appropriate action,” Democratic Senate majority leader Peter Wirth and Senate president Mary Kay Papen said in a statement. “Whether or not Sen. Martinez continues to serve in the Senate will be left for Sen. Martinez and the voters in his district to decide.”

At trial, a defense attorney for Martinez said a cluster of cracks in the windshield of the senator’s car suggest that he hit his head and was disoriented as a result. Defense attorney David Foster accused an Española police officer of bungling a sobriety test and failing to provide Martinez with a final, clear opportunity to take or refuse a blood-alcohol test.

But prosecutors with the attorney general’s office said Martinez knew as a leading lawmaker on judicial affairs what was in store when he was advised of the consequences of refusing a blood test.

Meanwhile, an Española police officer and an emergency room physician testified that there was an odor of alcohol on Martinez after the car crash.

“The defendant had a smell about him, and that smell was one of alcohol,” Probasco said.

Prosecutors also documented that the crash resulted in neck and back injuries to Johnny Sisneros, the driver of the car that was struck by Martinez. Sisneros testified that continued pain from the injuries interfere with his sleep and prevent him from running and playing with his grandchildren.

Prosectors indicated they hope to seek restitution to the crash victims in the sentencing phase of the trial.

Martinez has been pursuing reelection next year to the Democrat-led Legislature. Republican Party leaders have called for his resignation.