New Mexico officials think that too many drunk drivers in their state are getting off too easy. In response, Governor Susana Martinez announced that New Mexico will pay Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to watch courtroom proceedings and gather information about repeat drunk drivers and judges they believe are offering lenient sentences to offenders. MADD representatives will provide the details to the state’s department of transportation, which plans to blast them out through a dedicated Twitter account.
Through the 2-year, $800,000 program, MADD plans to monitor cases in counties with particularly high drunk driving rates: Bernalillo, Dona Ana, McKinley, Rio Arriba, and San Juan.
A New Twist on a Common Strategy
Broadcasting information about drunk-driving suspects and offenders on social media has become a regular occurrence for law enforcement and local media. Mugshots regularly appear on the Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of police departments, and extreme stories—both tragic and absurd—frequently go viral. Law enforcement agencies state that the goal of social posts is to highlight just how widespread and devastating drunk driving is, and to make would-be offenders think twice before getting behind the wheel.
However, New Mexico’s plan is perhaps the first to target judges on social media. The rationale is that knowing they are being observed will keep judges accountable and encourage them to crack down on repeat offenders. Publicizing the information could also help voters determine which judges to retain come election time.
Critics question how the court monitors will determine which judges are “too lenient” and have voiced concerns about how the program might interfere with judicial independence. Knowing that their reputation can be impacted by 140-character messages could influence judges to disregard the unique facts of cases and impose harsher sentences in exchange for a more favorable public perception of being tough on drunk drivers.
Questions on Cost
The price tag of the program has also raised some eyebrows, causing some to wonder if the money would be better spent on proven anti-drunk driving tactics like treatment courts or alcohol monitoring technology for repeat offenders.
There are, unfortunately, too many cases of drunk drivers receiving sentences that don’t seem to fit the crime, and New Mexico has some of the highest rates of drunk-driving fatalities and recidivism in the nation. It remains to be seen if the new program will help make a dent in the problem.