Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

by
Petitioner League of Women Voters of New Mexico sought a writ of mandamus directing Respondent Advisory Committee to the New Mexico Compilation Commission, to effectuate the compilation of three constitutional amendments to the so-called “unamendable section” of the New Mexico Constitution. Article VII, Sections 1 and 3 of the New Mexico Constitution set forth the elective franchise; the two provisions work in tandem to establish and guarantee the right to vote. Section 1, among other things, identifies who is qualified to vote; and Section 3 protects the right from being “restricted, abridged or impaired on account of religion, race, language or color, or inability to speak, read or write the English or Spanish 9 languages . . . .” To protect the elective franchise even further, the framers declared in two separate constitutional provisions that Article VII, Sections 1 and 3 “shall never be 12 amended except upon a vote of the people of this state in an election at which at least three-fourths of the electors voting in the whole state . . . shall vote for such amendment.” The proposed amendments to Article VII, Section 1 were submitted to the electorate in 2008, 2010, and 2014, and each received more than a majority, but less than a three-fourths super-majority, of the vote. The Compilation Commission did not compile the amendments into the Constitution. Petitioner asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to clarify that under a separate constitutional provision, the 2008, 2010, and 2014 amendments required the approval of only a simple majority of the voters. Respondent took no position on the merits of the question presented, but asked that the Court deny the petition on the grounds that Respondent was not a proper party. After full briefing by the parties and by numerous amici curiae and after hearing oral arguments, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued a writ of mandamus as requested by Petitioner. View "New Mexico ex rel. League of Women Voters v. Advisory Comm. to the N.M. Compilation Comm'n" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Carlos Carrillo appealed his convictions for the murders of Christopher Kinney and Lyndsey Frost, tampering with evidence, and breaking and entering. Defendant argued: (1) the district court erred in allowing lay witnesses to testify to cell phone-related evidence with respect to the murder convictions, which, in Defendant’s view, required a qualified expert; (2) there was insufficient evidence to support Defendant’s convictions of murder, tampering with evidence, and breaking and entering; (3) the State committed prosecutorial misconduct when it repeatedly attempted to admit statements that the district court had ruled inadmissible prior to trial; and (4) cumulative error renders the guilty verdict unreliable. While the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed with Defendant with respect to the first issue, in part, the Court found that it was harmless error. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "New Mexico v. Carrillo" on Justia Law

by
The New Mexico Supreme Court addressed the circumstances under which detectives may question a juvenile defendant in the absence of and without notification of a court-appointed attorney or court-appointed guardian ad litem. Then-fifteen-year-old defendant Juan Rivas’ convictions arose from his killing of eighty-three-year-old Clara Alvarez as she slept in her bed. Evidence presented at trial included two statements Defendant had made to detectives. Based on the evidence presented, a jury convicted Defendant of first-degree murder, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. Defendant was then sentenced to life imprisonment. Defendant appealed. Finding no reversible error as to the admission of either statement, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Mexico v. Rivas" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners who pursue the recall of a local school board member under the Recall Act are entitled to the procedural protections of the New Mexico statute prohibiting strategic litigation against public participation (Anti-SLAPP statute). This dispute arose out of a malicious abuse of process claim made by Taos school board member Arsenio Cordova (Cordova) against eighteen members of an unincorporated citizens’ association (collectively, Petitioners) following their efforts to remove Cordova from office under the Local School Board Member Recall Act (Recall Act). The New Mexico Supreme Court concluded that petitioners were entitled to immunity under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine when they exercise their right to petition unless the petitioners: (1) lacked sufficient factual or legal support; and (2) had a subjective illegitimate motive for exercising their right to petition. View "Cordova v. Cline" on Justia Law

by
This case addressed the procedure for determining whether a jury was deadlocked. In this case, the jury announced that it was hung on Count 1, which required it to consider whether Defendant Clive Phillips was guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, second-degree murder, or voluntary manslaughter. The district court polled the jurors. During the poll, seven jurors stated that the jury had unanimously agreed Phillips was not guilty of first-degree murder, but five jurors indicated the jury was unable to reach a verdict on that crime. The only verdict form given to the jury that exclusively referred to first-degree murder was the guilty verdict form, so there was no written record of whether the jury had acquitted Phillips of that crime or deadlocked during deliberations. The district court determined that the jury was hung on first-degree murder. The New Mexico Supreme Court held the trial judge failed to clearly establish on the record whether the jury deadlocked on first-degree murder, and therefore Phillips could only be retried on the lowest offense in Count 1, voluntary manslaughter. The Supreme Court reversed the district court and remanded to dismiss the first- and second-degree murder charges with prejudice. View "New Mexico v. Phillips" on Justia Law

by
The New Mexico Supreme Court clarified the circumstances under which a court may permissibly exclude a witness as a discovery sanction. Defendant-appellant Ashley Le Mier unsuccessfully attempted to smuggle illegal substances into the Roosevelt County Detention Center (RCDC) by concealing them within a body cavity. The contraband was discovered during a strip search, Le Mier was charged with three minor criminal offenses, to which she pled not guilty. The discovery phase of the proceedings lasted eighteen months. Le Mier’s substitute counsel entered her appearance a year after Le Mier’s arraignment. Ten days before the final trial setting, defense counsel filed an amended motion to exclude witnesses. In that motion, counsel protested that the State still had neither facilitated the phone conversation between her and a witness, nor provided accurate addresses for all witnesses. The trial court ultimately granted Le Mier’s request to exclude the witnesses her counsel was unable to reach, despite earnest efforts to do so. The Supreme court concluded the district court issued clear, unambiguous, and reasonable discover orders to ensure the parties would be prepared to try Le Mier’s case in a timely fashion. The State failed to comply with these orders, and accordingly, could not proceed to trial. The district court’s order was an appropriate exercise of its discretionary authority. View "New Mexico v. Le Mier" on Justia Law

by
Shortly before 4:00 am with a police officer in pursuit, Defendant Trevor Merhege ran through the front yard of a private residence that was enclosed by a three-foot-high wall. He became entangled on a chain link fence as he attempted to jump over an adjoining fence into the back yard of the residence. He was convicted of criminal trespass. Because the property was not posted, the State was required to prove that Merhege knew that he was not permitted to enter the property. Merhege contended that there was insufficient evidence to support this knowledge requirement. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed his conviction, concluding that because the property’s driveway was not posted with a “no trespassing” sign and the property owner gave no other explicit warnings not to enter, Merhege and the public at large were presumptively granted permission to enter the property. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated Merhege’s conviction for criminal trespass because the wall surrounding the property’s front yard, the purpose of his entry, and the time of his entry provided sufficient circumstantial evidence for the jury to find that Merhege knew that he did not have consent to enter the property. View "New Mexico v. Merhege" on Justia Law

by
A court-appointed psychologist evaluated Defendant Desiree Linares and recommended that she be found incompetent to stand trial due to mental retardation. The State doubted the psychologist’s testing methodology and conclusions and requested an opportunity to conduct an independent evaluation using its own expert. The district court granted this request, but because Linares had filed a speedy-trial motion and the proceedings had been "fraught with needless and unexplained delay," the district court allowed the psychologist to attend and observe the State’s independent evaluation to ensure the issue of Linares’ mental retardation was quickly resolved. The State insisted that this was unacceptable and unlawful and declined to conduct the evaluation. Ultimately, the district court accepted the court-appointed psychologist’s recommendations and found Linares incompetent due to mental retardation. Linares was civilly committed to the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) and the criminal proceedings against her were dismissed. In a direct appeal, the State contended that the district court abused its discretion and effectively denied it an opportunity for an "independent" evaluation by permitting the court-appointed psychologist to attend the second, independent evaluation which ultimately did not occur. The State also argued that the district court abused its discretion in concluding that Linares was incompetent to stand trial. Finding no error in the trial court record, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Mexico v. Linares" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner and Albuquerque resident David Crum was registered to vote in New Mexico as a qualified voter who declined to designate or state his political party affiliation (DTS). He sought to vote during the 2014 primary election by selecting either a Democratic or a Republican ballot without having to amend his voter registration. Crum was not permitted to vote during the June 3, 2014 primary election because he was not registered as either a Democrat or a Republican1 on or before May 6, 2014. Crum contended that the Free and Open Clause of Article II, Section 8 of the New Mexico Constitution entitled him to vote during primary elections without registering with a major political party because he was a qualified voter under Article VII, Section 1. The Supreme Court disagreed: “[a]lthough the Free and Open Clause is intended to promote voter participation during elections, the Legislature has the constitutional power to enact laws that ‘secure the secrecy of the ballot and the purity of elections and guard against the abuse of [the] elective franchise.’” The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Crum’s complaint for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. View "Crum v. Duran" on Justia Law

by
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