Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Passengers Liable in DWI Fatalities? Lovato case.

The Alfred Lovato case has, at least temporarily, focused attention on the legal theory of accessory liability. Right now, public enthusiasm for holding passengers responsible ranges from lukewarm to adamantly against. Attorney General King is very clear about his stance in this case.

“Our perspective on what happened is straightforward---two adult men decided they were going to get stinking drunk together; both decided they should drive despite being severely impaired; then they stopped to get snacks together; and both were in the car when they struck and killed a pedestrian. We are disappointed that the judge did not let the jury deliberate on our evidence because we believe they would have agreed with us that both men are responsible for William Tenorio’s death that tragic evening in Santa Fe," said Attorney General King. He added, “It is never a waste of time and resources to try to get justice for a man who was run over and killed by a couple of drunks.”

Lovato's acquittal on all charges is understandable but not discouraging to those who continue the fight against drunk driving in New Mexico. Why? One need only look back at our state's progress over the years to see and understand that most people's acceptance and behaviors concerning DWI have changed, albeit slowly.

In 1987 it was still legal to drive anywhere in the state with a cold beer in your lap until our 'open container' law was passed by the legislature. The public outcry contained statements like, "Hard working folks deserve a chance to unwind with a brewski on their way home..what's wrong with that?" Then in the 1990s, drive-up liquor sales were banned statewide, even though the citizens of McKinley County had the sense to ban them much earlier. Before that happened, some people measured how long it would take to drive somewhere in New Mexico by how many stops it would require to buy more booze or by how many beers they could consume along the way. Example: "Let's see...Albuquerque to Farmington? That's at least a twelve pack."

Today, more people than ever utilize a 'designated driver' or decide not to drink alcohol if they plan to drive a vehicle. DWI fatalities have steadily been dropping and driving drunk has increasingly become socially unacceptable. In short, New Mexico's acceptance of DWI has dwindled while behaviors that used to lead to DWI have changed. That is good news and something to build on for those who have consistently been working to keep our streets and highways safer for all New Mexicans.

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