New Mexico v. Vargas

In the early morning April 23, 2011, the Bernalillo County Sheriff Department was conducting a DWI checkpoint in Albuquerque. Defendant Laressa Vargas was pulled over as part of the checkpoint. The Deputy at the checkpoint immediately noticed the odor of alcohol emanating from both Vargas’s person and her vehicle. The Deputy asked Vargas if she had been drinking, to which she answered that she had not. The Deputy requested that Vargas submit to field sobriety tests (FSTs), and Vargas agreed. Vargas performed poorly on the FSTs. At that point, the Deputy believed that Vargas was intoxicated and could not safely operate a vehicle, so he placed her under arrest. Defendant Vargas consented to and submitted to two breath tests, but refused to consent to a blood test. The arresting deputy did not obtain a warrant for a blood test, nor could he do so under New Mexico law, because he did not have probable cause to believe that Vargas had committed a felony or caused death or great bodily injury to another person while driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Vargas was convicted of violating NMSA 1978, Section 66-8-102(D)(3) (2010, amended 2016) because she refused to submit to a blood test; she received a sentence of ninety days in jail, with credit for seventy-five days for time served. In Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S. Ct. 9 2160 (2016), the United States Supreme Court held that a person who is arrested for DWI may be punished for refusing to submit to a breath test under an implied consent law, but may not be punished for refusing to consent to or submit to a blood test under an implied consent law unless the officer either (a) obtains a warrant, or (b) proves probable cause to require the blood test in addition to exigent circumstances. The Birchfield opinion had not been decided when the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court entered its judgment convicting Vargas; however, Birchfield was published while Vargas’s appeal was pending before the New Mexico Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals applied Birchfield and reversed Vargas’s conviction for aggravated DWI. The New Mexico Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals correctly applied Birchfield to the pending appeal. View "New Mexico v. Vargas" on Justia Law