New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez Files Petition for Writ Against Las Cruces District Court Judge for Violating the Victims of Crime Act

The Writ was Filed After Judge Reduced Sentence of Convicted Sex Offender 

Las Cruces, NM – Today, Attorney General Raúl Torrez filed a petition for writ against Las Cruces District Court Judge Douglas R. Driggers, whose sudden early termination of Patrick Howard’s probation violated critical state laws. The Judge violated legal mandates governing probation for sex offenders, conditional discharge, and the rights afforded to victims under the Victim of Crime Act (VCA). 

The Las Cruces High School teacher pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting one of his female students in 2018. He agreed to a five-year probation term in exchange for dismissal of the remaining charges and other benefits. But after serving less than three years of his probation, he asked the court to terminate the remainder of his probation. A hearing was scheduled and took place in very short order, but the victims were not notified of the hearing and their voices were not heard.  

“It is truly shocking that a convicted sex offender was released from supervision after having served barely half the time required by law and, what’s worse, the court made this decision without giving the victims in the case an opportunity to be heard,” said AG Torrez. “Victims have rights under New Mexico law, and I have a solemn obligation to defend those rights, even when they are violated by members of the judiciary.” 

The Attorney General’s Petition for a Writ of Prohibition and Superintending Control advances two key arguments: 

  1. Violation of Statutes Guiding Probation for Sex Offenders and Conditional Discharge: Section 31-20-5.2 requires a minimum of five years of supervised probation for sex offenders, providing no exception for conditional discharge situations. Despite this, Patrick Howard, who pleaded guilty to criminal sexual penetration of a minor in the 3rd degree and battery, was granted discharge from probation prematurely and contrary to law. The conditional discharge statute also requires that individuals be placed on probation according to the terms and conditions of the probation statute, which expressly incorporates the sex offender probation statute. Any deviation from the prescribed probationary period violates the law. 
  2. Violations of the Victim Rights Act: The actions of the court also violated the victim’s rights under the New Mexico Constitution and the VCA. New Mexico’s laws protect victims with the same vigor as criminal defendants and guarantee victims the right to be notified of court proceedings, to attend relevant hearings, and to make statements during post-sentencing proceedings. The unjustified and overly hasty scheduling and holding of the hearing, followed by the Judge’s immediate termination of Patrick Howard’s probation, violated several of the victim’s rights. 

The timing and sequence of events leading to Patrick Howard’s premature release from probation raise serious concerns. Less than three years into his five-year probationary period, the district court abruptly terminated Patrick Howard’s probation without consideration of the victim or her rights and in violation of the law. 

The New Mexico Department of Justice is committed to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that justice is served for all parties involved. The decision to file a writ against the district court judge reflects our dedication to holding accountable those who fail to uphold their legal obligations.  


A stamped copy of the writ is available here.

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