Carlos Fierro, who spent more than three years in prison for killing a Santa Fe pedestrian with his car after a night of heavy drinking, on Tuesday received a suspended jail sentence and probation for his arrest last year on a drunken-driving charge.
Although Fierro had the vehicular homicide conviction on his record, his latest case was treated as a first-time DWI offense, a misdemeanor.
No one was injured in the latest incident, but Fierro in 2008 had failed to stop after his car mowed down 46-year-old William Tenorio on Guadalupe Street after Fierro had been drinking in bars with a state police officer who was a member of then-Gov. Bill Richardson’s security detail.
District Attorney Marco Serna said Tuesday that despite the fact that Fierro had killed a man while driving drunk in the past, the prosecutor’s office was unable to charge Fierro as a repeat DWI offender because the charge he was convicted of in the earlier case — homicide by vehicle — was not technically a DWI.
Serna said the prosecutor in the earlier case was able to get the conviction based partly on proving that Fierro had been drunk that night, making his behavior reckless. But Serna said it wouldn’t have made sense to also charge the lesser offense of DWI because the charges would have been merged to prevent creating a double-jeopardy situation where Fierro could potentially have been punished twice for the same act.
Serna said he researched case law on the issue and couldn’t find any cases where a district attorney had charged both crimes.
After Fierro served his sentence for vehicular homicide, the former lawyer and congressional staffer moved to California.
While visiting New Mexico over Memorial Day weekend in 2016, he was pulled over in Española and arrested on suspicion of DWI by a New Mexico State Police officer who said he saw Fierro toss a cigarette out his car window and make an irregular lane change. The officer said Fierro had been weaving, smelled of alcohol and had bloodshot eyes. The arrest report said Fierro refused to take a breath-alcohol test and asked the officer to give him a “break.”
Fierro’s lawyer argued in pretrial motions that the traffic stop wasn’t justified and that Fierro was targeted because of his history. After those motions were denied, Fierro pleaded guilty and Santa Fe County Magistrate David Segura sentenced him to 90 days in jail but suspended all but four days, time Fierro had already served.
Fierro appealed the conviction less than a week later, but state District Judge T. Glenn Ellington denied the appeal.
Fierro did not appear for Tuesday’s sentencing hearing before Segura. His public defender, Hans Erickson, said an administrative error prevented him from notifying Fierro of the hearing until the last minute, at which point arranging travel from California would have been prohibitively expensive. The lawyer asked Segura to continue the case, allow Fierro to appear by phone or waive his appearance and impose the sentence in Fierro’s absence.
Assistant District Attorney Ihsan Ahmed opposed allowing Fierro to appear by phone or be sentenced without being present, arguing that “given Mr. Fierro’s history,” it would be in the best interest of the public for him to appear in person to be sentenced.
Erikson argued that prosecutors were taking a hard line because of Fierro’s notoriety.
“He’s a high-profile guy,” Erikson said of Fierro. “The state wouldn’t have taken this position if he was just a guy off the street.”
Serna disputed that characterization after the hearing, saying that regardless of who the defendant is, it has “much more impact” when guilty defendants hear their disposition and sentence read out by a judge.
Segura sided with the defense and imposed the same exact sentence he had pronounced before Fierro’s appeal: 90 days in jail with 86 days suspended, a year of unsupervised probation, 24 hours of community service and installation of an ignition interlock on his vehicle for a year. That sentence is in keeping with penalties for a first-time DWI offense.