Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

by
The State of New Mexico appealed the suppression of two statements made by sixteen-year-old Filemon V. Filemon made the first statement to his probation officers. The New Mexico Supreme Court held that, absent a valid waiver, Section 32A-2-14(C) of the Delinquency Act of the Children’s Code precluded the admission of Filemon’s statement to his probation officers while in investigatory detention. The Court affirmed the district court’s order suppressing the use of the statement in a subsequent prosecution. The second contested statement was elicited by police officers at the Silver City Police Department. Filemon was at this point in custody, and entitled to be warned of his Miranda rights. At issue was whether the midstream Miranda warnings were sufficient to inform Filemon of his rights. The Supreme Court concluded the warnings were insufficient under Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004). Because the statement was elicited in clear violation of the Fifth Amendment and Section 32A-2- 19 14, the district court’s suppression of the statement was affirmed. View "New Mexico v. Filemon V." on Justia Law

by
In this case, the New Mexico Supreme Court was asked to address the nature of evidentiary presentation required by the new detention authority approved by the New Mexico Legislature in February 2016 and passed by New Mexico voters in the November 2016 general election. The Court agreed with courts in all other federal and state bail reform jurisdictions that have considered the same issues, and held that the showing of dangerousness required by the new constitutional authority was not bound by formal rules of evidence but instead focuses on judicial assessment of all reliable information presented to the court in any format worthy of reasoned consideration. "The probative value of the information, rather than the technical form, is the proper focus of the inquiry at a pretrial detention hearing." In most cases, credible proffers and other summaries of evidence, law enforcement and court records, or other nontestimonial information should be sufficient support for an informed decision that the state either has or has not met its constitutional burden. But the Supreme Court also agreed with other jurisdictions that a court necessarily retains the judicial discretion to find proffered or documentary information insufficient to meet the constitutional clear and convincing evidence requirement in the context of particular cases. View "New Mexico ex rel. Torrez v. Whitaker" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Elexus Groves was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder and other serious felony offenses. In this interlocutory appeal, she challenged a district court order of pretrial detention that was based on two independent and alternative detention grounds contained in Article II, Section 13 of the New Mexico Constitution. The New Mexico Supreme Court held after review that the district court’s detention order was lawfully based on the new constitutional authority for pretrial detention of dangerous defendants, and affirmed on that ground. As a result, there was no need to address the issues Defendant raised relating to the alternative ground for the district court’s action based on the old capital-offense exception. View "New Mexico v. Groves" on Justia Law

by
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

by
Following a jury trial, Defendant John “Jack” McDowell was convicted of first- degree murder and tampering with evidence. During trial, the prosecutor elicited testimony from the arresting detective, without objection, that Defendant had invoked his right to counsel, and that by doing so the detective was precluded from questioning Defendant. Defendant argued on appeal that he was deprived of due process when the prosecutor elicited this testimony. The New Mexico Supreme Court agreed that the prosecutor erred. The Court reviewed the prosecutor’s error in this case for fundamental error because the error was not preserved, and concluded that the error was fundamental due to the prejudicial impact of such testimony and the lack of overwhelming evidence against Defendant. Accordingly, the convictions were vacated and the matter remanded back to the district court for a new trial. View "New Mexico v. McDowell" on Justia Law

by
Police Sergeant George Rascon pulled over Defendant Jennifer Martinez for failing to stop at a stop sign and, as a result, the police obtained evidence that led to Defendant’s arrest and conviction for driving while intoxicated. In a motion to suppress, Defendant argued that the video from the officer’s on board camera, or “dash-cam,” demonstrated that Defendant made a legal stop at the intersection and that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to pull her over. At an evidentiary hearing, the officer testified that Defendant went past the stop sign before coming to a complete stop, blocking the intersection. The district court viewed the dash-cam video and concluded that the officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop, even though the video demonstrated that the alleged traffic violation was not as blatant as described by the officer. The Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that the officer was not credible and that the video evidence was too ambiguous to support a finding of reasonable suspicion. After its review, the New Mexico Supreme Court held the Court of Appeals misapplied the standard of review, which required the appellate court to defer to the district court’s findings of fact if supported by substantial evidence and to view the facts in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. View "New Mexico v. Martinez" on Justia Law

by
The State filed a Motion for Pretrial Detention in this case involving a charge of first-degree murder, which was denied by the district court judge after an evidentiary hearing. The State appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court, contending that the district court judge, relying on New Mexico v. Brown, 338 P.3d 1276, “apparently determined that the charges themselves—no matter how serious the crime and how dangerous a manner in which it is committed—are never sufficient to detain.” The State also contended the district court judge abused his discretion and asked the Supreme Court to clarify that a district court judge “should neither disregard the nature or circumstances of the crime nor consider the charges to the exclusion of all other factors.” The prosecuting authority did not offer any reasons why the conditions of release were inadequate to reasonably provide for the safety of a person or the community. But because of the ambiguity in the trial court’s written Order, the Supreme Court remanded to the district court judge to clarify the Order. View "New Mexico v. Ferry" on Justia Law

by
A jury found Defendant Alejandro Ramirez guilty of shooting and killing Johnny Vialpando. Ramirez was convicted of several offenses, including first-degree murder, and the district court sentenced Ramirez to life imprisonment plus an additional sixty-five and one-half years. Ramirez appeals directly to the New Mexico Supreme Court, arguing: (1) there was insufficient evidence presented to support his convictions; (2) his right to due process was violated when the district court permitted several eyewitnesses to identify him in court as the shooter; and (3) his convictions violated the double-jeopardy guarantee against multiple punishments. With respect to the murder conviction, the Supreme Court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions, the district court did not violate Ramirez’s right to due process by allowing the in-court identifications, and double jeopardy precluded the district court from convicting Ramirez of first-degree murder and shooting at a motor vehicle. The Court vacated Ramirez's shooting-at-a-motor-vehicle conviction and remanded for resentencing. View "New Mexico v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

by
This case concerned the inventory search exception to the warrant requirement. Wesley Davis was arrested for operating a motorcycle without a license. Davis was carrying a backpack; during the stop, an Eddy County sheriff deputy searched the backpack and found marijuana. Davis was charged with one count of distribution of marijuana. He moved to suppress the marijuana, arguing the search was unlawful because Davis did not possess the backpack "on his person or in his physical possession." The New Mexico Supreme Court disagreed that possession in the inventory search context should have been so narrowly construed, and concluded Davis possessed the backpack at the time of his arrest. Therefore the inventory search was valid. The Court of Appeals judgment holding to the contrary was reversed. View "New Mexico v. Davis" on Justia Law

by
Defendant John Ochoa appealed his convictions relating to criminal sexual contact of a minor, and the Court of Appeals reversed on speedy trial grounds. Defendant was arrested in 2008. Prior to a mistrial in 2010, trial was delayed for a number of reasons including a furlough affecting the New Mexico Public Defender Department. Defendant was incarcerated for the entire pretrial period. The Court of Appeals determined defendant was prejudiced by his two-year pretrial incarceration. The New Mexico Supreme Court concluded that neither the length of delay, the reason for delay, nor the assertion of the right to a speedy trial weighed heavily in defendant’s favor: “We presume that Defendant suffered some prejudice as a result of his continuous pretrial incarceration, but our presumption does not outweigh the other three factors. Thus, despite the obvious prejudice to Defendant, his right to a speedy trial was not violated.” View "New Mexico v. Ochoa" on Justia Law