Sometimes, it seems like governments are the most innovative when it comes to embracing the most hackneyed political themes – like “cracking down on drinking driving,” for instance.
One recent example is what's happening in New Mexico, where Governor Susana Martinez has been pushing her “anti-DWI” plan since December. Last month, Martinez unveiled details of a new program associated with this initiative: displaying judicial outcomes of certain driving while intoxicated cases on social media.
The program, which is being funded by an $800,000 federal grant, partners with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and sets up a Department of Transportation Twitter account. Half a dozen paid employees will monitor about 200 DWI cases a year in five New Mexico counties, and will post not only publicly-available information about defendants, but also details about plea bargains, sentences, and participating prosecutors and judges. Martinez says the purpose of the program is to “hold the justice system accountable for failing to punish DWI criminals.”
Apparently, proponents of the program aren't even denying its public shaming component. A DOT official told the Albuquerque Journal:
“…the tweeting is more about holding the system accountable than it is about public shaming, but several officials at the news conference Tuesday said if individuals choose to drink and drive and are arrested, they deserve the public attention – despite the legal presumption of innocence.”
The public shaming of drunk driving suspects (including those who haven't been convicted) is not new. Many jurisdictions have posted arrestees' mug shots in newspapers, on TV, and online for years. But the New Mexico program aims to spotlight outcomes of DWI cases without necessarily providing important details about the cases – details which may directly impact the plea bargains and/or sentences.
And Antonio Maestas, a state representative, also noted that the program could pressure judges, lawyers, and prosecutors to come up with harsher sentences regardless of whether a cases' facts warrant them. Maestas was quoted as saying:
“Blaming a judge for not enough conviction rates is like blaming (a baseball) umpire for not enough strikeouts.”
Thankfully, the state's chapter of the ACLU is reviewing the program. Hopefully, civil rights advocates will be able to show how shaming defendants, judges, and attorneys has an adverse impact on the entire criminal justice system.