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The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (the Department) appealed a Court of Appeals decision to reverse the district court’s termination of Father’s parental rights with regard to Child. Mother and Father reported that Father had been standing and rocking Child when he accidentally dropped her on the carpet. Child was in critical condition, having sustained multiple fractures, including twenty-three rib fractures and four skull fractures in various stages of healing, facial bruising, liver lacerations, brain bleeding, and a possible detached retina. Doctors determined that the “volume, distribution, and severity of [Child’s] injuries [were] not consistent with a short fall in the home” and instead evidenced multiple incidents of blunt force trauma to Child’s head and body. Child was severely physically and mentally impaired as a result of the injuries. The Court of Appeals concluded that the Department failed to make reasonable efforts to assist Father in remedying the conditions and causes of neglect and abuse that rendered Father unable to properly care for Child. The New Mexico Supreme Court granted certiorari to review whether the district court’s determination that the Department made reasonable efforts to assist Father was supported by substantial evidence. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals opinion and affirmed the district court order terminating Father’s parental rights. View "New Mexico ex rel. CYFD v. Keon H." on Justia Law

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In a wrongful death action, the jury returned a special verdict that awarded damages to the individual loss-of-consortium claimants but not to the decedent’s estate. The decedent’s surviving spouse and children (collectively Plaintiffs) filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the award of zero damages to the estate was not supported by substantial evidence. The issue before the New Mexico Supreme Court was whether Plaintiffs waived the right to challenge the jury verdict on appeal by failing to object to the verdict prior to the jury’s discharge. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that they did: “A party is deemed to have waived a challenge to an ambiguous, inconsistent, or incomplete jury verdict if the party had an opportunity to raise the objection before the jury was discharged but failed to do so.” In this case, Plaintiffs created ambiguity in the verdict by modifying the uniform jury instruction on wrongful death damages and drafting the special verdict form in a way that failed to advise jurors how to allocate damages between the individual loss-of-consortium claimants and the decedent’s estate. During its deliberations, the jury submitted a question to the district court which confirmed that the jury was confused about how to allocate damages on the special verdict form. As a result of this confusion, it was unclear whether the jury deliberately intended to award zero wrongful death damages to the estate or whether the jury mistakenly included wrongful death damages in its award to the individual claimants. View "Saenz v. Ranack Constructors, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2009, the New Mexico legislative and executive branches statutorily abolished capital punishment for first-degree murder, the only remaining New Mexico crime carrying a potential death sentence, for all offenses committed after July 1, 2009. Defendant Muhammad Ameer was charged with first-degree murder committed on or after July 1, 2009. In this appeal, an issue arose from the district court’s order applying the capital offense exception to the constitutional right to bail and denying Defendant any form of pretrial release. The New Mexico Supreme Court held that first-degree murder was not currently a constitutionally defined capital offense in New Mexico that would authorize a judge to categorically deny release pending trial. Following briefing and oral argument, the Supreme Court issued a bench ruling and written order reversing the district court’s detention order that had been based solely on the capital offense exception. In the same order, the Supreme Court remanded the case for the district court to consider the State’s unaddressed request for detention under the 2016 amendment to Article II, 4 Section 13 of the New Mexico Constitution, allowing courts a new and broader evidence-based authority to deny pretrial release for any felony defendant “if the prosecuting authority . . . proves by clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.” At that time, the Court advised its opinion would follow; this was the opinion setting forth the Court’s reasoning. View "New Mexico v. Ameer" on Justia Law

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Defendants Isaac Martinez and Carla Casias were each indicted on one count of armed robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Early in the investigation of the robbery, a police detective enlisted the help of the deputy district attorney, who prepared and authorized service of what purported to be judicial subpoenas duces tecum (the subpoenas) to obtain records of calls and text messages of suspects from their cellular telephone providers. These purported subpoenas represented on their face that they were issued in the name of the Eighth Judicial District Court, although at the time of their preparation and service there was no pending prosecution, court action, or grand jury proceeding. Over signature of the deputy district attorney, some of these purported subpoenas ordered production of “Call Detail Records, and Text Message Detail” for the specified phones, all ordered subscriber information, and all ordered production to the Taos Police Department with the warning, “IF YOU DO NOT COMPLY WITH THIS SUBPOENA, you may be held in contempt of court and punished by fine or imprisonment.” These early subpoenas were filed with the district court in a miscellaneous court docket, rather than a criminal or grand jury docket, but they were styled as “State of New Mexico, Plaintiff, vs. John Doe, Defendant.” The detective used information gained from the early subpoenas to obtain search warrants for additional evidence. In this case, the New Mexico Supreme Court addressed whether a court could dismiss an indictment because evidence considered by the grand jury had been developed through use of unlawful subpoenas. The Supreme Court confirmed “almost a century of judicial precedents in New Mexico” and held that, absent statutory authorization, a court may not overturn an otherwise lawful grand jury indictment because of trial inadmissibility or improprieties in the procurement of evidence that was considered by the grand jury. View "New Mexico v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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Just after midnight on September 8, 2012, Defendant John Radosevich’s neighbor called 911 to report that Defendant was yelling obscenities and throwing objects into his yard. After calling the police, the neighbor walked outside his house to investigate. Defendant met the neighbor in the alleyway between their homes and, following a verbal exchange, Defendant threatened to stab the neighbor with “a little steak knife.” Moments later an officer arrived at the scene, and Defendant threw the knife away and returned to his house. An officer subsequently recovered the knife. The State charged Defendant with assault with intent to commit murder (a third-degree felony) and tampering with evidence (a fourth-degree felony). The district court directed a verdict in Defendant’s favor on the assault with intent to murder charge and then, over Defendant’s objection, instructed the jury on an uncharged crime, assault with a deadly weapon. Defendant was convicted of both assault with a deadly weapon (a fourth-degree felony), and tampering with evidence. Defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals, and the appellate court reversed the assault charge. The Court of Appeals also addressed Defendant’s argument that because his tampering conviction was “tied to his conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, he should be retried for tampering or permitted to challenge the degree of his conviction,” based on his contention that the offense for which tampering could have been committed was a misdemeanor, making the tampering offense a petty misdemeanor. Rather than remanding for a new trial, the Court of Appeals held that because the tampering jury instruction did not tie to an identified crime, defendant's conviction was relative to an indeterminate crime and should be amended, not retried. The case was then remanded for the district court to simple amend Defendant's judgement and sentence to impose felony tampering under the applicable statute's indeterminate crime provision. The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed. The offense of tampering where the level of the underlying crime cannot be determined beyond a reasonable doubt is punishable at the lowest penalty classification for tampering; the highest crime for which tampering with evidence of a probation violation is committed is the highest crime for which the defendant is on probation, rather than an indeterminate crime. View "New Mexico v. Radosevich" on Justia Law

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Defendant Oscar Arvizo was found guilty of two counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor (CSCM) by a person in a position of authority, one in the second degree and one in the third degree. The Court of Appeals reversed the two convictions, holding that the evidence failed to prove that Defendant “used his position of authority to coerce A.B. to submit to criminal sexual contact[s]” because “when both sexual contacts took place without warning, A.B. immediately pushed Defendant away.” The State sought further review of a single issue: whether “the Court of Appeals erroneously [held] that a child’s physical resistance after the fact negates other evidence for the element of coercion by a person in a position of authority in a conviction for CSCM.” The New Mexico Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the convictions, finding the evidence sufficient to find defendant coerced A.B. and this was not negated because she pushed defendant's hand away after each sexual contact. View "New Mexico v. Arvizo" on Justia Law

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Three federal Supreme Court cases created a special category under the Eighth Amendment for juvenile offenders whose culpability was mitigated by adolescence and immaturity. "The cases recognize that a juvenile is more likely to be rehabilitated than an adult and therefore should receive a meaningful opportunity to obtain release by demonstrating maturity and rehabilitation." Petitioner Joel Ira, was sentenced as a juvenile to 91.5 years after he pled no contest to several counts of criminal sexual penetration and intimidation of a witness - crimes which he committed when he was fourteen and fifteen years old. Under the relevant New Mexico Earned Meritorious Deduction Act (EMDA), petitioner would be eligible for parole when he has served one-half of his sentence (approximately 46 years) if he maintained good behavior while incarcerated. He would be approximately 62 years old when he could first be eligible for parole. Petitioner sought habeas relief, arguing that his sentence would be cruel and unusual punishment because it amounted to a life sentence. He relied on both New Mexico and federal Supreme Court jurisprudence as grounds for relief. The New Mexico Supreme Court concluded that Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010) applied when a multiple term-of-years sentence would in all likelihood keep a juvenile in prison for the rest of his or her life because the juvenile would be deprived of a meaningful opportunity to obtain release by demonstrating his or her maturity and rehabilitation. In this case, petitioner could be eligible for a parole hearing when he reached 62 years old if he demonstrated good behavior under the EMDA. Therefore, the New Mexico Court concluded petitioner had a meaningful opportunity to obtain release by demonstrating his maturity and rehabilitation before the Parole Board. View "Ira v. Janecka" on Justia Law

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In September 2013, the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (Commission) adopted the Copper Mine Rule, 20.6.7 NMAC (Copper Rule). Petitioners argued the Copper Rule violates the Water Quality Act (WQA) because it was premised on an impermissible construction of the statutory phrase “place of withdrawal of water for present or reasonably foreseeable future use.” Petitioners asserted that, as a consequence of this impermissible construction of the statutory phrase, the Copper Rule permitted rather than prevented groundwater contamination at open pit copper mining facilities. The New Mexico Supreme Court rejected these arguments, concluding that the Copper Rule was premised on a permissible construction of the statutory phrase, and affirmed the Commission’s decision to adopt the Copper Rule. View "Gila Res. Info. Project v. N.M. Water Quality Control Comm'n" on Justia Law

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New Energy Economy, Inc. (NEE) appealed a final order issued by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC). NEE contended the PRC violated New Mexico law by approving a contested stipulation granting the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) certificates of public convenience and necessity (CCNs) to acquire new generation resources and by filing a notice proposing to dismiss the protests to PNM’s 2014 integrated resource plan (IRP). The New Mexico Supreme Court determined NEE’s arguments were predicated on a mistaken understanding of the law, and NEE asked the Court to accept factual assertions that were rejected in earlier proceedings. The Court affirmed the PRC’s final order. View "New Energy Econ. v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Early in the proceedings in New Mexico ex rel. King v. Valley Meat Co., LLC, No. D-101- 3 CV-2013-3197 (Valley Meat case), A. Blair Dunn, counsel for Valley Meat Co., e-mailed an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request to First Judicial District Court Executive Officer Stephen Pacheco for production of, among other things, communications and records relating to the Valley Meat case, including “all communications between . . . Judge Matthew Wilson and his staff . . . and Court Clerk’s staff” and “[a]ny communications received by Judge Matthew Wilson and his staff, Judge Raymond Ortiz and his staff, and any member of the Court Clerk’s staff to/from any outside person or organization.” In this superintending control proceeding, the New Mexico Supreme Court clarified the constitutional and statutory procedures for IPRA enforcement actions to compel production of court records, and held that IPRA actions directed at a district court’s records had to be filed against the lawfully designated IPRA custodian and must be filed in the judicial district that maintains the records. Furthermore, the Court held that the contents of an officeholder’s personal election campaign, social media website, and the internal decision-making communications that are at the core of the constitutional duties of the judicial branch, such as preliminary drafts of judicial decisions, are not public records that are subject to mandatory disclosure and inspection under IPRA. View "Pacheco v. Hudson" on Justia Law