BY JENNIFER PADGETT MACIAS
There’s an important election facing voters in Judicial District 1. There are two candidates for District Attorney – Mary Carmack-Altwies and Scott Fuqua. The article the Los Alamos Reporter published about Mr. Fuqua put in sharp focus the differences between these candidates and it’s worth exploring. Voters are “hiring” Ms. Carmack-Altwies or Mr. Fuqua for one of the highest public safety offices in government – District Attorney.
Simply put: Mary Carmack-Altwies has 15 years of experience in the subject of criminal law and Mr. Fuqua has none. The breadth of his career has taken place in civil law; and, save for one criminal trial in Lincoln County, NM, he has not practiced criminal law in any meaningful way since he became an attorney. He has certainly never practiced criminal law in the one place it actually matters for this community: The First Judicial District.
Anyone who has ever applied for a job knows how important it is to not only know what the job is, but also what it takes to get it done. The job of the District Attorney, at its most basic, is to prosecute criminal cases in the First Judicial District. Thus, it is imperative that a person seeking the job knows how the system works, the people involved on both sides, and the different agencies that a prosecutor must work with in the pursuit of justice. “Fake it until you make it” will not suffice here. To be successful as the District Attorney in this, and any jurisdiction, takes an awareness of context, the roles of other individuals and agencies in the system, a familiarity with obstacles to justice (such as addiction, poverty, etc.), and a willingness to seek and receive feedback from the community.
The article about Mr. Fuqua illustrated perfectly how little he is prepared to meet the demands of the District Attorney position. For example, when he was asked to discuss DWI offenders – he utilized the hypothetical example of a DWI offender with seven DWIs. In his quotation, he argued that these offenders don’t need to go to the Corrections Department after a seventh DWI because the root of their problem is that they “can’t stop drinking.” First of all, Mr. Fuqua is unaware there are mandatory penalties prescribed by our legislature for an individual who manages to obtain seven DWI convictions. Specifically, a person convicted of a seventh DWI offense must do a minimum of two years of incarceration — a penalty set by the legislature. No District Attorney, defense attorney, or judge can change or mitigate that sentence.
Second, he makes a representation that after seven DWIs a person hasn’t “had a car for about three DWIs.” This is simply untrue. While Mr. Fuqua may be referring to the seizure program in the Santa Fe City limits, Los Alamos has no such seizure program, nor does any other jurisdiction in the First Judicial District. As an aside, the Santa Fe program is currently the subject of a class-action lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in January 2020. This case is similar to a lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque seizure program that ultimately did away with Albuquerque’s vehicle seizure program altogether. Suffice it to say, a penalty of DWI is not the loss of one’s vehicle, and the fact Mr. Fuqua relies on this controversial feature of DWI sentencing indicates he is out of touch with the state of criminal law in New Mexico. Without question, a contender for the chief law enforcement officer in the First Judicial District must be able to recite with accuracy the penalties of one of the most menacing crimes this state faces.
DWI law and prosecution is an area of considerable potential progress and reform in New Mexico. It is a prime example of how an intersection between factors like addiction and limited resources can threaten the safety of the entire community by failing to address the individual. I’m sure both Mr. Fuqua and Ms. Carmack-Altwies share a common goal to seek more rehabilitation and diversion programs for people accused of committing low-level offenses. However, this jurisdiction has lost too many citizens to DWI to not treat a seventh DWI with the utmost seriousness and determination.
My vote in this election goes to Mary Carmack-Altwies. She has the experience, the knowledge, and the wherewithal to lead the District Attorney’s office and I trust her do what’s best for the people of the First Judicial District, and importantly to attack DWIs, particularly felony-level DWIs with the utmost seriousness, deliberation, and intelligence, by abiding by and enforcing the law.
Editor’s Note; Jennifer Padgett Macias served as First Judicial District Attorney in 2016, yet despite resounding support from Democratic voters in Los Alamos County, Marco Serna prevailed in the primary election. Padgett Macias has dedicated her 15 year legal career to public safety, child welfare, and juvenile justice policy and law. She currently serves as a Chief Deputy DA and one of her duties includes managing the felony DUI unit.