New Mexico Supreme Court Overturns DUI Conviction

This entry is taken from the Web site of NBC affiliate KOB in New Mexico. The Supreme Court opinion that comes out of New Mexico could be influential on other state Supreme Courts.

The New Mexico Supreme Court overturned a DWI conviction this week, involving a man who was found drunk and passed out in his car with the keys nearby in 2004. The court ruled that prosecutors didn’t have proof that Mark Sims had “actual physical control” of his vehicle.

In 2008, Fidencio Francia was arrested under almost identical circumstances. Police arrested him in the parking lot of the American Legion on Louisiana in Albuquerque. He admits to drinking that night but not driving. Francia says he went to sleep in the driver seat but his keys were not in the ignition.

“If I had been caught driving down the street, I’d be paying for what I did wrong but that night, in my mind, I was not doing wrong,” Francia said.

Eyewitness News 4 asked District Attorney Kari Brandenburg if the Supreme Court ruling on Sims’ case could mean Francia’s case, which is being appealed, would be overturned too. Brandenburg says, “I would think based upon just those facts, yes, but I also think the courts going to be looking at this case and trying to determine what actual control means.” Brandenburg adds that the new ruling means she won’t be prosecuting DWI cases where there’s no concrete evidence that someone was driving or had the intent to drive, as was the case in both the Sims and Francia cases.

Brandenburg says, “We can only move forward if we have ethical reasons to believe we can prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt, and with this case law we can’t prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt.” APD has said it would meet with prosecutors to figure out if officers need to follow new guidelines when it comes to this type of DWI arrest.