New Mexico AG calls out controversial judge’s recent decision

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The state’s top prosecutor is accusing a New Mexico judge of breaking the law and stomping on crime victim’s rights. It comes after that judge suddenly dismissed years of probation from the sentence of a teacher who admitted to molesting a teenager.

Attorney General Raúl Torrez is calling on the New Mexico Supreme Court to get involved in what he claims is a violation of state law and a disregard of victim’s rights by a southern New Mexico district court judge. “We’re asking the Supreme Court to recognize that there we multiple violations of the law that were committed by a misapplication of that law by the judge himself,” said AG Torrez.

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The AG’s accusation surrounds Judge Douglas Driggers who recently dismissed more than two years of probation off of the sentence of former Las Cruces teacher Patrick Howard. Howard plead guilty in 2021 to battery and criminal sexual contact of a minor. Prosecutors say state law requires a mandatory five years probation, but in March Judge Driggers ruled otherwise. Howard’s probation was dismissed after just over two years.

Doña Ana County District Attorney Gerald Byers said he office also didn’t get the legally required 7-working day notice before the judge held the hearing. “That did not provide our office sufficient time to notify the victim,” said Byers.

While the AG is asking the supreme court to reverse Judge Driggers’ decision, he also believes there are likely other judges in New Mexico who have made similar rulings. “I don’t believe this to be an isolated incident in the state of New Mexico,” said Torrez. “All we’re asking for is so that victims of crime be treated equally, that their rights be observed, that their rights be protected.”

The judge who made the decision, Douglas Driggers has also faced criticism for decions in other cases. In 2021, the state supreme court threw Driggers off of a deadly child abuse trial after justices found Driggers abused his power in barring prosecutors from using key evidence.

Former Attorney Hector Balderas also admonished the judge for giving former District Attorney Francesca Estevez no jail time after she plead guilty in a high-profile reckless driving and disorderly conduct case. Prosecutors in that case accused Estevez of using her power to influence a police investigation. Judge Driggers put her on probation.

Then nearly two years ago, Judge Driggers handed down a directed verdict in favor of Las Cruces police officer on trial for using a chokehold on a man and killing him. In that case, Driggers ruled that prosecutors didn’t provide sufficient evidence to allow a jury to even consider other charge.

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