New Mexico v. Maestas

The New Mexico Supreme Court examined whether the constitutional right to confrontation was forfeited as a result of a defendant’s own wrongdoing. Specifically, the Court questioned whether the wrongdoing required an overt threat of harm to procure a witness’s silence or absence. When the State’s witness, Juliana Barela, Defendant Joshua Maestas’s girlfriend, refused to testify at trial, the district court declared her unavailable. The State then requested that the district court find that Defendant had obtained Barela’s unavailability by wrongdoing, and to therefore admit at trial testimony Barela gave to the grand jury, a statement she made to police, and a call she made to 911 operators. In support of its claim that Defendant had procured and intended to procure Barela’s unavailability by way of misconduct, the State offered recorded jailhouse phone conversations between Defendant and Barela. The district court determined that Defendant had neither caused nor intended to cause by any wrongdoing Barela’s decision not to testify, concluded Barela’s prior statements were thus inadmissible, and dismissed Defendant’s indictment. The State appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling. The Supreme Court held that wrongdoing, for purposes of the forfeiture-by-wrongdoing exception, need not take the form of overt threat of harm; various forms of coercion, persuasion, and control may satisfy the requirement. Accordingly, the Court reversed the decisions of the district court and Court of Appeals and remanded to the district court to apply the forfeiture-by-wrongdoing exception. View "New Mexico v. Maestas" on Justia Law