As defense attorneys know, the chances of getting fairness and due process in a drunk driving case are minimal. Most judges today are former prosecutors (“How to Lose a DUI Trial Before it Starts”), but more importantly they are under considerable political pressure. Put simply, most judges want to be reelected.
I’ve posted in the past about the coercive effect of groups like MADD monitoring judges and prosecutors in DUI cases (“Big Mother is Watching”). How far are some judges willing to go to appease these pressure groups?
Gallegos Accused of Altering DWI Sentences
Santa Fe, NM. Aug. 7, 2005 Santa Fe Municipal Judge Frances Gallegos systematically altered records of numerous DWI cases, often inflating jail sentences and the amount of time defendants spent behind bars, according to documents and a former court clerk.
The months-long project involving various members of her court staff began a little over a year ago after an anti-driving-while-intoxicated organization criticized Gallegos for allowing 92 percent of Santa Fe’s worst drunken drivers to escape with no jail time.
“I really think she was trying to make like she was tough on DWIs by putting in jail time,” said Jeremy Hanika, a former administrative assistant to Municipal Court Administrator Mary Anne Caldwell. “I mean, we started the project the very next day after the report came out.”
Gallegos, 55, responded to the group’s criticism by asserting she had been sentencing people to jail but her clerks had not been writing the sentences on reports sent to the state’s Motor Vehicle Division.
“I can assure you,” the judge said in May 2004, “anyone convicted of an aggravated DWI in my court is getting at least the minimum sentence, which by law is two days.”
The next day, Gallegos ordered her clerks to pull not only every aggravated DWI case she had ever adjudicated in her nearly 10 years on the bench, but every DWI case she’d ever handled. Gallegos then retroactively reported jail-sentence information missing from the documents sent to the Motor Vehicle Division.
A study of some of the documents shows that the retroactive reports — specifically the jail time sentenced and the time defendants actually spent in jail — often did not match the original reports…
A couple of months later:
Agent Alleges Judge Altered DWI Files
Santa Fe, NM Oct. 29, 2005. Suspended Municipal Judge Frances Gallegos appears to have altered closed driving-while-intoxicated case files to misrepresent her conviction record on drunken-driving cases, according to a state police investigation.
‘Falsifying a public record is a felony,’ state police Agent Patrick Oakeley said in a search-warrant affidavit filed Friday morning in District Court…
(Administrative Assistant Jeremy) Hanika told Oakeley that Gallegos ordered the DWI files to be pulled after she was criticized by an anti-drunken-driving group for being lenient on jail time for DWI offenders…
Hanika said Gallegos used white-out to blot out the jail time he had correctly written on the amended form and write in a larger amount of jail time in purple ink, according to the affidavit…
As most judges realize, it’s a lot easier and a lot safer to just rule in the prosecution’s favor at every opportunity.
(Thanks to Troy McKinney.)