New Mexico Judge Teaches Students About Drunk Driving
BELEN, N.M. – Marlene Chavez stood before a hushed courtroom, acknowledging the consequences of her second drunken-driving offense. Among the spectators were hundreds of teenagers who hung on her every word.
"I lost a lot of things," said Chavez, 43. "I left my vehicle in the impound so that I don't do drinking and driving after that. And I lost my house. I lost my kids to their father so that they can go stay with him because I had nowhere to go."
Chavez had already pleaded guilty. Now a judge gave her four days in jail and a $500 fine. But her sentence came with an additional indignity: It happened in a high school auditorium, where 400 students stared as she lifted one leg, then the other, to let jailers shackle her feet. Guards also wrapped a chain around her waist and handcuffed her.
When the hearing ended, she was escorted out of Belen High School, about 30 miles south of Albuquerque, and locked up.
Magistrate Daniel Hawkes brought his courtroom to the school in hopes that the proceedings would show students the dangers of alcohol, especially in the weeks leading up to the prom and graduation.
Hawkes, whose program is unique in New Mexico, also sentenced two people at the school last year. He brings with him a plywood court bench emblazoned with a New Mexico Supreme Court seal. The makeshift courtroom also includes U.S. and New Mexico flags.
Ed Chavez, chief justice of the high court and no relation to Marlene Chavez, said he would like to see the program go statewide.
When the hearing began, 18-year-old Angel Mendez didn't realize the seriousness of the proceedings. But after watching Marlene Chavez and four other repeat offenders get sentenced, he changed his view.
"I thought it was pretty shocking just to see them like that. I didn't think they would have them in shackles," he said.
Elizabeth Sluder, 17, was initially skeptical, too, thinking the hearing was overly staged. But she also changed her mind by the end.
"You see your friends, you know, they're like, 'I'm going to go out to this party.' But you never see the consequences of them getting in trouble or getting in an accident, or any kind of consequence of driving drunk," she said. "But here, it's actually being brought to us. It does happen, there are consequences."
Michael A. Martone, a Michigan district judge, started the first court-in-schools program in 1993, sentencing offenders who pleaded guilty to charges ranging from drunken-driving to assault and battery. He has held the hearings at high schools and middle schools in Troy and Clawson, Mich.
In 2000, Martone's program became the model for the outreach program at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev. Hawkes said he learned of the program while attending the judicial college.
Other touches he came up with himself, including his mobile courtroom, which is hauled around in a trailer that he personally bought for $6,800. On the side of the trailer is: "Judicial Outreach Team. Courts are the crossroads of prevention. It's NOT KOOL to SKIP School. Stay in school."
Sluder was struck by the emotional impact of the sentencing and the statements from the defendants.
"I can't imagine how those people felt standing up and having to talk to all of us kids, especially because we can see them in the community," she said. "It just makes it real."