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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

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Trevor Begay pleaded no contest to a petty misdemeanor count of battery. The County Magistrate Court imposed a 182-day sentence, suspended 171 days, credited Begay with 11 days of pre-sentence confinement, and imposed supervised probation. Begay failed to comply with the terms of his probation; he neither completed a life skills class nor performed community service. The magistrate court consequently ordered Begay to appear for a hearing. When Begay failed to appear, the magistrate judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest. Had Begay complied with the terms of his probation, his original probationary sentence would have concluded on December 27, 2012. Instead, on that day, Begay was subject to an outstanding warrant. The question this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether a magistrate court had jurisdiction to revoke probation when a defendant violated the terms of probation and was in bench-warrant status when the defendant’s original probationary period expired. The Court held that NMSA 1978, Section 31-20-8 (1977), does not deprive a magistrate court of jurisdiction to revoke a defendant’s probation under these circumstances. The Court reversed the contrary judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded for the execution of the sentence imposed by the magistrate court. View "New Mexico v. Begay" on Justia Law

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Laticia Lucero (Baby) died on June 9th, 2010, just 47 days after she was born to Mother and defendant Jadrian “Jay” Lucero. Baby’s autopsy revealed that she died as a result of the type of injuries one might expect after being ejected from a vehicle in a high-speed collision or falling from a third-story window and landing on one’s head. During the investigation into Baby’s death, Defendant told law enforcement that Baby was under his care on the afternoon of June 9th, and that he had found her “not breathing” when he went to check on her in her crib. Defendant was indicted on a single count of intentional child abuse resulting in Baby’s death, and a jury convicted him of intentional child abuse resulting in the death of a child less than twelve years of age under NMSA 1978, Section 30-6-1(D), (H) (2009). The district court sentenced him to life in prison. Defendant raised two issues on appeal: (1) the jury instructions improperly defined the intent element for the crime of intentional child abuse by endangerment and, therefore, resulted in fundamental error; and (2) the district court abused its discretion when it refused to hold an evidentiary hearing on Defendant’s motion for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed defendant’s conviction. View "New Mexico v. Lucero" on Justia Law

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New Mexico Rule of Evidence 11-410 NMRA stated that evidence of a nolo contendere plea made in settlement of a criminal proceedings was not admissible in civil proceedings against a defendant making such a plea. In this case, the issue presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court's consideration was whether evidence of a nolo plea was admissible in a civil case for misrepresentation where the plaintiffs sought to introduce a nineteen-year-old nolo plea of one defendant to support an argument that the defendant fraudulently failed to disclose his nolo plea during the formation of a joint business venture. The Court held that evidence of the nolo plea was inadmissible under both the express terms and the underlying purpose of Rule 11-410(A)(2), and the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on that basis. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals which held to the contrary. View "Kipnis v. Jusbasche" on Justia Law

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Judge Daniel Viramontes wrote a letter dated March 10, 2016 to New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, informing her of his intent to resign as district court judge of Division 4 of the Sixth Judicial District Court, effective August 26, 2016. The Sixth Judicial District Court Nominating Committee met and submitted the names of Petitioner Edward Hand and Real Party in Interest Jarod Hofacket to Governor Martinez for her consideration. Governor Martinez appointed Hofacket by letter dated October 21, 2016, stating that his term would begin on November 4, 2016. Hofacket was to serve until the next general election (here, November 8, 2016). Either Hofacket or his successor, whoever was elected during the upcoming general election, would hold office until the expiration of the term held by Judge Viramontes, at which time he or she would be eligible for a nonpartisan retention election. Petitioners did not challenge Governor Martinez’s appointment of Hofacket. Instead, they filed a petition for writ of mandamus, injunction, and declaratory judgment asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to declare that Secretary of State Brad Winter acted arbitrarily, capriciously, and in violation of law by placing Hofacket on the November 8, 2016 general election ballot. The issue presented for the Supreme Court was thus reduced to whether the Secretary of State could place on the general election ballot the names of political party nominees to fill a vacancy created by a district court judge who resigned effective after a primary election but more than fifty-six days prior to the general election. The Court answered "yes," because under NMSA 1978, Section 1-8-8(A) (2015), the vacancy occurred for a public office that was not included in the governor’s election proclamation, and pursuant to Article VI, Sections 35 and 36 of the New Mexico Constitution, the judicial vacancy was required to be filled at the next general election, provided that the political parties file their list of nominees with the Secretary of State more than fifty-six days before the general election. View "Hand v. Winter" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law

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The issue presented for the Supreme Court's review giving rise to this case was a collateral of the underlying judgment. Specifically, the issue was whether it was apparent on the face of a 1948 quiet title judgment that the district court affirmatively lacked jurisdiction over certain parties because they were notified by publication. It was alleged that in the 1948 lawsuit, such notice violated the Due Process Clause, depriving the district court of jurisdiction. Only when a party’s whereabouts are not reasonably ascertainable following diligent search and inquiry can constructive notice substitute for personal notice of suit. The Supreme Court found that constructive service of process by publication satisfied due process and established the 1948 district court’s personal jurisdiction. Therefore, the district court’s 1948 quiet title judgment was not void, and, accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals which held to the contrary. View "T.H. McElvain Oil & Gas Ltd. P'ship v. Benson-Montin-Greer Drilling Corp." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico certified a question of New Mexico law to the state Supreme Court. The question centered on whether a worker injured in the course of employment by a co-worker operating an employer owned motor vehicle was a person “legally entitled to recover damages” under his employer’s uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Andrew Vasquez was killed at the workplace after being struck by a steel beam that fell off of a forklift during the course of his employment at Coronado Wrecking and Salvage. A coworker operating the forklift had jumped off to check whether the steel beam being lifted was secure, leaving the forklift unattended as the steel beam slid off of the forks, striking and killing Vasquez. Plaintiff, Vasquez’s estate, subsequently collected workers’ compensation benefits from Coronado’s workers’ compensation carrier. Related to the forklift accident, Plaintiff also collected uninsured motorist benefits under Vasquez’s own automobile insurance policy.The certified question from the district court arose from an alleged discontinuity among the plain language of New Mexico’s Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA), the Uninsured Motorist statute, and the New Mexico Court’s case law. Because the WCA provided the exclusive remedy for an employee injured in a workplace accident by an employer or its representative, the employee was not legally entitled to recover damages from the uninsured employer tortfeasor under the Uninsured Motorist statute. The Court therefore answered the certified question in the negative. View "Vasquez v. American Cas. Co. of Reading" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jason Bailey appealed his conviction for second-degree criminal sexual contact of a minor. Defendant argued on appeal that admission of evidence of his uncharged conduct was improper under Rule 11-404(B)(1) NMRA and Rule 11-403 NMRA. Because the other-act evidence that Defendant objected to was properly admitted for the purpose of demonstrating Defendant’s intent under Rule 11-404(B)(2), and the evidence was not unduly prejudicial under Rule 11-403, the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. And, by this opinion, the Court further explicated the proper application of Rule 11-404(B) in state district courts as it pertained to admission of other-act evidence bearing on an accused’s intent. View "New Mexico v. Bailey" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jennifer Stephenson placed her two-year-old son Isaiah in his room at bedtime and locked the door for the night. Isaiah’s father heard Isaiah whimpering the next morning and found him with his legs pinned between a dresser and a crossbar on the bed. Isaiah developed "compartment syndrome," which required an aggressive surgery to correct. A jury convicted Defendant of one count of second-degree abandonment of a child resulting in great bodily harm after being unable to find that she committed child abuse by failing to act for Isaiah’s welfare and safety. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, holding that Defendant's conduct did not fall within the meaning of “leaving or abandoning” because she did not leave Isaiah with the intent not to return. The State petitioned for certiorari review to determine whether the Court of Appeals’ definition of “leaving or abandoning” was correct and whether the evidence was sufficient as a matter of law to support the conviction. The Supreme Court interpreted NMSA 1978, Section 30-6-1(B) (2009) differently than the Court of Appeals did, but agreed with the outcome. "Perhaps the most important lesson from this case is that the Legislature must clarify its intent with respect to the crime of child abandonment. Nevertheless, we agree with the Court of Appeals that Defendant could not be found guilty of abandoning Isaiah because there is no evidence that Defendant intentionally left Isaiah with the intent not to return." The Court also concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to support the finding that Defendant intentionally departed from Isaiah, leaving him under circumstances where Isaiah might have or did suffer neglect - where his well-being was at risk of harm. The Court therefore reversed Defendant’s conviction and remanded for an entry of a judgment of acquittal. View "New Mexico v. Stephenson" on Justia Law

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Eileen Dalton purchased two used cars under separate finance contracts which contained provisions that retained self-help remedies for both parties, and that allowed either party to compel arbitration of any claim or dispute arising out of the contracts that exceeded the jurisdiction of a small claims court (which in New Mexico was $10,000). One of the cars was repossessed without judicial action. Dalton sued, alleging fraud, violations of the New Mexico Uniform Commercial Code, unfair trade practices, conversion, breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and breach of warranty of title. Santander Consumer USA moved to compel arbitration based on the clause contained in the finance contracts. Dalton argued that the arbitration clause was substantively unconscionable on its face, and therefore unenforceable because the self-help and small claims carve-outs were unreasonably one-sided. After review of the provisions at issue here, the Supreme Court held that the arbitration provision in this case was not substantively unconscionable because: (1) lawful self-help remedies were extrajudicial remedies; and (2) the small claims carve-out was facially neutral because either party had to sue in small claims court if its claim was less than $10,000, or arbitrate if its claim exceeds $10,000, thereby neither grossly unfair nor unreasonably one-sided on its face. View "Dalton v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc." on Justia Law