With the opening day of the 2020 legislative session two weeks away, Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Ojo Caliente, will serve five days in jail for a June 2019 drunk driving incident in which he rear-ended a couple at the intersection of Paseo de Oñate and Fairview Lane, injuring both.
Due at the Santa Fe County jail Jan. 14, he will get out just days before the Jan. 21 opening day of the session.
Martinez acknowledged his drunk driving for the first time at his sentencing Tuesday—defense attorney David Foster maintained at the trial that Martinez’s seemingly-intoxicated behavior and failure of field sobriety tests was because he hit his head on the windshield in the crash. Martinez begged the forgiveness of the couple he struck, Johnny and Gerrie Sisneros, saying he prayed for them every day and wanted to apologize, but that his attorney would not let him because it would indicate guilt in the criminal case.
“I’m sorry that I created this mess and that I haven’t apologized any sooner, but I couldn’t discuss the case because my attorney told me not to,” he said. “I wanted to call you immediately and find out how you were doing and he said, ‘No, that’s kind of admitting that you’re guilty.’”
Martinez, a former Rio Arriba magistrate judge, said he realized after the crash that he had a drinking problem. He said he has been sober over six months, attending Alcoholics Anonymous over four weeks, and planned to enter a recovery program in Santa Fe immediately.
He said that as a judge, he made an effort to put people in treatment centers rather than incarcerate them, and would visit them to encourage their recovery.
Judge Francis Mathew, who found Martinez guilty in a bench trial last month, sentenced Martinez to 90 days with 85 days suspended on probation for both his aggravated DWI and reckless driving charges, to be served together. Mathew ordered $500 in fines, 40 hours of community service at an Española-area hospital or homeless shelter, DUI school, screening for possible counseling, six months in a 12 Step recovery program, an ignition lock on his vehicle, and payments to the Sisneros family for any medical costs not covered by their insurance.
“As a judge and as a legislator, you ask the people of Rio Arriba County and your legislative district to trust you that you would act in their interest, including protecting them from the harm and dangers arising out of people violating the laws of the state of New Mexico,” Mathew said. “You violated that trust when you drove under the influence of alcohol.”
He said he hoped that the experience did make Martinez a better legislator and person, but that he had sent a message that he did not care about the safety of the people of New Mexico.
“It is only by the grace of god that you did not kill someone on that on that June 20, 2019 evening,” he said. “But you did affect the lives of innocent people that evening by inflicting harm, pain and suffering on them, which, by the evidence, will be with them for the rest of their lives. The knowledge of this is an additional sentence for which there is no end.”
Prosecutors had requested a sentence of 180 days in jail—the maximum incarceration for his charges—and a $900 fine. They pointed to the impact of the crash on the Sisneros family, Martinez’s previous statement to reporters that the case would probably make him a better senator, his lack of expressed remorse, and the potential for fatal harm from Martinez’s actions. Assistant Attorney General Peter Valencia clarified in court that he did not think Martinez’s positions themselves should enhance his sentencing, but rather the intimate understanding with the consequences of the law that came with them.
Johnny Sisneros also asked the judge for the maximum sentence, saying the crash changed his life and he now experiences chronic pain. He said that while he still works, he had to leave his longtime job as an armed security guard, and that he struggles with a number of physical activities.
Foster said jail time would threaten Martinez’s health due to multiple conditions, including ongoing recovery from a severe infection of a foot wound resulting from the crash and his required use of a sleep apnea machine.
“Any assurances the jails might give—considering the medical treatment history of the jails—there’s nothing they can do to properly assure anyone that they can effectively safeguard Mr. Martinez’s life,” Foster said.
He referenced the recent request by the Attorney General’s Office for a judge to sentence Laura Seeds to two years incarceration for voter fraud, though Judge Mary Marlow Sommer sentenced her to six months on house arrest. He said the cases were distinct because Martinez’s offense had nothing to do with his office and was solely a personal issue.
Now widely-seen Española Police Department lapel footage showed Martinez struggle to complete two field sobriety tests and refuse to take a breathalyzer test in the hospital, which qualified his DUI charge as “aggravated.”
Attorney General’s Office Spokesperson Matt Baca said in a statement on the sentencing, “Drunk driving continues to plague our communities, and anyone who risks the lives of New Mexican families by getting behind the wheel while drunk will be held accountable. While the judge disagreed with our proposed amount of incarceration, we are grateful that justice was served for the victims.”
Outside the courtroom, Martinez reiterated previous statements that he would not vacate his seat and would still run for reelection. He echoed family member’s claims that he was treated unfairly by the media, and declined to comment further. Foster said he could not yet say whether he would appeal the judge’s decision.
District 2 Rio Arriba County Commissioner Leo Jaramillo announced Jan. 2 his candidacy for Martinez’s seat in the upcoming Democratic primary.
After Martinez’s conviction, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged him to step down and Senate leaders issued a statement saying they will recommend that he be removed from his position as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He resigned from the senate committees on which he served in late December.