Articles Posted in Criminal Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

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 concluded that the minor children of a parent whom they allege was wrongfully shot and killed by a law enforcement officer could: (1) sue for loss of consortium damages under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (TCA); and (2) bring their lawsuit even if the parent’s estate did not sue for wrongful death damages. The Court held Section 41-4-12 of the TCA waived a law enforcement officer’s sovereign immunity from liability for personal injury and bodily injury damages resulting from battery, and loss of consortium damages may be characterized as either personal or bodily injury damages. Second, loss of consortium damages result from the wrongful injury or death of someone who was in a sufficiently close relationship to the loss of consortium claimant, and such damages belong to the loss of consortium claimant and not to the injured person or the decedent’s estate. View "Thompson v. City of Albuquerque" 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
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