New Mexico v. Suazo

Defendant Marcos Suazo became agitated while roughhousing with his friend Matthew Vigil. Suazo retrieved his shotgun and pointed it at Vigil. Vigil grabbed the shotgun and placed the barrel in his mouth. Suazo pulled the trigger, killing Vigil and severely injuring his friend Roger Gage, who was standing behind Vigil. A key contested issue in this case was whether Suazo knew the shotgun was loaded when he pulled the trigger. Among other crimes, Suazo was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He appealed his second-degree murder conviction to the Court of Appeals, contending that the district court erred by excluding the witness testimony and by modifying the uniform jury instruction for second-degree murder. The Court of Appeals certified his case to the New Mexico Supreme Court due to the significant public importance of the jury instruction issue. The Supreme Court: (1) affirmed the district court’s exclusion of the hearsay evidence because the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Suazo’s statements, which were overheard one hour after the shooting, were neither excited utterances nor present sense impressions; and (2) the district court erred by modifying the uniform jury instruction for second-degree murder because in 1980 the Legislature amended the definition of second-degree murder to specifically require proof that the accused knew that his or her acts created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm. Because the modified instruction misstated an essential element, the Supreme Court reversed Suazo’s conviction for second-degree murder and remanded for a new trial. View "New Mexico v. Suazo" on Justia Law