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Bernalillo County DA talks about mass DWI dismissals

Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman
New Mexico in Focus
Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman

A federal investigation has led to the suspensions of a handful of Albuquerque Police officersand a raid on the office of a prominent defense attorney. Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman has dismissed more than 150 DWI cases since news of the federal raids broke. He spoke with Lou Divizio of New Mexico in Focus, but he also said he’s limited in what he can say because this is an ongoing federal investigation.

SAM BREGMAN: I don't take it lightly dismissing 150 some DWI cases. But as a prosecutor, we have certain ethics that we have to follow. And I can tell you, that's exactly what I'm doing in this instance. I'm sick to my stomach about the idea of dismissing that many DWI cases. But at the same time, I recognize that one of my most important roles as a district attorney is to ensure that our justice system continues to have credibility, that my office continues to have credibility, because without credibility, then our justice system doesn't work. Everybody I think is sick to their stomach, probably, that hears about 150 DWI cases being dismissed. But I also know it's the right thing to do pursuant to my ethics that I'm required to have, as a prosecutor. This wasn't an easy decision. It was a decision that I had no choice about.

NEW MEXICO IN FOCUS: Now, if you can't speak specifically about this case, in a scenario like this how do you decide which cases need to be dismissed? What is the criteria there?

BREGMAN: On any case, I'll tell you this in a very broad general way that this does not have anything to do or does or doesn't have anything -- I'm not trying to imply one way or the other, as far as this ongoing federal investigation. But I will tell you, in general, that prosecutors have a duty to prove any criminal charge against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. That is something that is that is a requirement that we welcome as prosecutors, that's the way our justice system does and should work. At the same time, part of that job to accomplish that goal is to present evidence that's credible, to present witnesses that's credible, to put up witnesses that we believe are going to be credible, and tell the truth. Those are all things that are extremely important. I'll just say DWI cases, for example, the credibility of the witnesses everything for the judge or the jury to hear.

NMIF: Okay, so if the witness is not credible, and you were aware of that, or could be aware of that, then the case essentially, probably won't move forward.

BREGMAN: Hypothetically, that's absolutely – we cannot, as prosecutors, put forth a case that we don't believe in ourselves. That we don't believe that is -- that we have a good-faith basis to believe that the evidence, the witnesses are all credible, and that we have the ability to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. If we don't believe that, then we don't prosecute

NMIF: Now, high dismissal rates for DWI cases in Bernalillo. County have been an issue for decades. Several reforms have been in place since the early 2010s to make sure that officers do show up to court so that the cases aren't thrown out. Part of that safety net involves communication between your office and APD. If this is what that looks like, why weren't APD and your office noticing what appear now to be repeated failures by certain officers to appear, resulting in these dismiss cases?

BREGMAN: Unfortunately, and I appreciate and respect the fact that you're asking the questions along these lines, but I don't feel at liberty that I can discuss what or what we didn't know when we knew it. And I'll just leave it at that right now. I'm sorry, but it is an ongoing federal investigation. And the reason I don't want to comment is not only because they've requested me not to comment on any of the details, but also because I don't want to do anything to compromise the investigation that's going on right now.

NMIF: You’ve spoken to this a bit before but I'll end here. People are going to be upset by these dismissals regardless of their understanding of why or what plays into that, especially in this state and where drunk driving has been such an issue for so many years. What would you say to residents and to peop who drive here about that?

BREGMAN: Hopefully, anybody that's done anything wrong is going to be held accountable. That's number one. Whether or not it's Joe Smith, the civilian out there, whether or not it's a police officer, whether or not it's a lawyer, whether or not it's anybody in those circumstances. I sincerely hope and believe that people will be held accountable and responsible for any criminal activities. At the same time, DWI is a terrible problem. It has been for years, for decades in this community, and yeah, I'm sick to my stomach about having to dismiss them. But in the long run, we want good DWI cases. And we have to do justice. And justice sometimes means doing something that isn't popular in the short term, to make sure we get the long-term gains of having a system that really does work and that people can have faith in and that's really, really important.

You can see the full New Mexico in Focus interview here