Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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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

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A jury convicted defendant Benjamin David Baroz III of felony murder based on the predicate felony of shooting at or from a motor vehicle, two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The conviction of shooting at or from a motor vehicle was vacated on double jeopardy grounds. Defendant argued on appeal of those convictions that he was entitled to a new trial because: (1) shooting at or from a motor vehicle cannot serve as a predicate felony for felony murder; (2) the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction of second-degree murder; (3) the district court erred in denying his request for a jury instruction on self-defense; (4) the one-year firearm enhancements on his sentences for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon violated double jeopardy; and (5) the State should not have been allowed to impeach his trial testimony with a statement obtained in violation of his Miranda rights. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court vacated Defendant’s felony murder conviction and ordered that a conviction of second-degree murder be entered instead. The Court affirmed the district court’s holdings that: (1) Defendant was not entitled to a self-defense instruction; (2) the imposition of a one-year firearm enhancement on an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon conviction did not violate double jeopardy; and (3) the statements Defendant made after invoking his right to remain silent were voluntary and could be used for impeachment. View "New Mexico v. Baroz" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jesus Castro was charged with two counts of criminal sexual penetration. Defendant had two trials: the first resulted in a mistrial, and after the second, a jury convicted him of one count of forced penile penetration. The time between the trials was thirty-two months. The delay was due to multiple continuances, attorney motions to withdraw, the mistrial, and fifteen months during which the case was stagnant. Despite the delay in setting his retrial, neither Defendant nor his attorney, Jonathan Huerta, asserted Defendant’s right to a speedy trial before his conviction. Four and one-half months after Defendant’s conviction, his new attorney filed a post- trial motion to dismiss with the district court based on speedy trial grounds. The motion alleged that Defendant failed to assert his right earlier due to ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss. On appeal, the Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the district court, instructing it to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether there was ineffective assistance of counsel, particularly regarding Huerta’s failure to assert Defendant’s right to a speedy trial. If the district court found that Huerta’s assistance was constitutionally ineffective, the Court of Appeals instructed it to reassess whether Defendant’s right to a speedy trial had been violated. The State filed a petition for writ of certiorari with New Mexico Supreme Court to determine whether “the mere failure to file a demand for a speedy trial establish[es] a prima facie case of ineffective assistance of counsel.” The Court held Defendant’s right to a speedy trial was not violated and Defendant did not make a prima facie showing of ineffective assistance of counsel because Huerta may have strategically withheld a demand for a speedy trial if it would benefit Defendant’s case. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals without prejudice to a habeas corpus petition, which Defendant could bring to resolve whether Huerta provided ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to assert Defendant’s speedy trial right, in addition to any other allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "New Mexico v. Castro" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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