Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
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Defendant Christina Banghart-Portillo pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence, and conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, contrary to (Count 1 and Count 2, respectively), each of which was a fourth-degree felony offense, under a written plea agreement. Because Defendant had a prior felony conviction, each sentence was enhanced at her initial sentencing by one year under New Mexico’s habitual offender statute. Defendant also admitted her identity in a second prior felony at the time of her sentencing, yet the district court imposed no additional enhancement at that time. The district court imposed consecutive sentences. The central issue this case presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court's review was whether Defendant had a reasonable expectation of finality for Count 1 such that the district court no longer had jurisdiction when it applied the habitual offender enhancement to that Count. Defendant argued on appeal that the district court’s enhancement of the Count 1 sentence resulted in a double jeopardy violation because the court had lost jurisdiction by the time of the enhancement. The Court of Appeals held that the district court retained jurisdiction to apply a habitual offender enhancement to Count 1. The Supreme Court concluded Defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of finality in Count 1 at the time that the district court enhanced Defendant’s sentence because the district court had previously informed her of the consequences she faced if she violated probation. Therefore, it affirmed the Court of Appeals and held that the district court properly retained jurisdiction to apply a habitual offender enhancement to Count 1. View "New Mexico v. Banghart-Portillo" on Justia Law

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On interlocutory appeal, the State challenged the Court of Appeals’ affirmance of the district court’s pretrial ruling that almost all statements made by Declarant Kimbro Talk to sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) nurse Gail Starr were inadmissible as violating Defendant Oliver Tsosie’s confrontation rights under the Sixth Amendment. The district court concluded that Declarant’s statements sought by the State for use at Defendant’s trial were testimonial in nature, and thus inadmissible, pursuant to Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004) and Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006). The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed and, without ruling on other considerations of admissibility, held that almost all of the excluded statements were nontestimonial in nature and thus did not violate Defendant’s rights under the Confrontation Clause. View "New Mexico v. Tsosie" on Justia Law

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Child, then age seventeen, became Facebook friends with a former schoolmate, Jeremiah Erickson (Erickson), then age nineteen. The two conversed primarily through their respective Facebook Messenger accounts. Child and Erickson used Messenger to arrange in-person meetings, during which Erickson drove to Child’s house to pick her up and drive her somewhere to “hang out.” It was the second of these meetings that gave rise to the events leading to Child’s adjudication. Both Erickson and Child testified that their get-together on the night of February 24, 2020, did not end well, and each provided a different narrative as to what unfolded. At Child’s adjudication, the State sought to introduce evidence of communications between Child and Erickson the State alleged took place on Facebook Messenger the day after an incident involving Erickson’s vehicle. The State sought to authenticate the messages through Erickson’s testimony as to his personal knowledge of both the accuracy of screenshots and his history of Facebook Messenger communications with Child, as well as through the contents of the messages themselves. Child’s counsel objected to the authentication of the exhibits, arguing the screenshots did not show with certainty the messages were sent from Child’s Facebook account and emphasizing what counsel characterized as the inherent difficulty in “lay[ing a] foundation on Facebook Messenger messages because anybody can have access to somebody’s phone or Facebook account.” The district court overruled the objection, and the evidence was admitted. Child was subsequently adjudicated delinquent and appealed the district court’s judgment and disposition. The New Mexico Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the traditional authentication standard set out in Rule 11-901 provided the appropriate legal framework for authenticating social media evidence. But the Court disagreed with appellate court's conclusion that the State failed to meet the threshold for authentication established under that rule, much less that the district court abused its discretion in finding the State had met its burden. The Supreme Court held the State’s authentication showing was sufficient under Rule 11-901 to support a finding that, more likely than not, the Facebook Messenger account used to send the messages belonged to Child and that Child was the author of the messages. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals was reversed and Child’s delinquency adjudications were reinstated. View "New Mexico v. Jesenya O." on Justia Law

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Defendant-respondent Jesse Mascareno-Haidle was charged committing a series of burglaries of residential homes in Albuquerque. The State filed a motion for pretrial detention, and to support its motion, the State presented the investigating detective's criminal complaint-arrest warrant affidavit, the pretrial services public safety assessment (PSA) recommending that Defendant be released on his own recognizance, the results of a criminal history search pertaining to Defendant, and the register of actions in the case. At the hearing for the motion, "noticeably lacking" was any testimony from the detective and any argument that no conditions of release could protect the community from Defendant if he were released. The district court judge denied detention. The district court judge found “that the magnitude of the allegations are inherently dangerous” but “that the State has failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of another person or the community.” The State filed a second motion for pretrial detention. As with the first motion, the State supported its second motion with the detective's second criminal complaint-arrest warrant affidavit, an updated pretrial services PSA that again recommended Defendant’s release on his own recognizance, the results of a criminal history search, and the register of actions in the case. An arrest warrant was issued, and Defendant was arrested at his home - his required location under the existing conditions of his release. At the conclusion of a second hearing on the State's motion, the district court again denied the motion. The New Mexico Supreme Court concurred with the district court that the State failed to meet its evidentiary burden to place defendant in pretrial detention, and affirmed the appellate court's affirmance of the district court. View "New Mexico v. Mascareno-Haidle" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented was one of first impression for the New Mexico Supreme Court: whether judicial conduct at trial could result in a bar to retrial under the double jeopardy clause of the New Mexico Constitution, and if so, whether the district court judge’s conduct in this case barred retrial. The Supreme Court held that judicial conduct could result in a bar to retrial under the New Mexico Constitution, and that the judicial conduct in this case barred Defendant’s retrial for felony aggravated battery against a household member with great bodily harm, misdemeanor aggravated battery against a household member without great bodily harm, and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. View "New Mexico v. Hildreth" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court's review was whether the arrest of of Defendant Somer Wright by a noncommissioned, volunteer reserve deputy in violation of NMSA 1978, section 66-8- 124(A) (2007) was constitutionally unreasonable and therefore in violation of Article II, Section 10 of the New Mexico Constitution. Disagreeing with the opinion of a divided Court of Appeals panel holding that there was no constitutional violation, the Supreme Court reversed: the failure to observe the requirements of Section 66-8-124(A) resulted in an illegal arrest of Defendant and violated Article II, Section 10 of the New Mexico Constitution. Suppression of all evidence obtained as a result of the arrest was therefore required. In reversing the Court of Appeals the Supreme Court reiterated that reviewing courts were to give sufficient deference to the findings of fact of trial courts and not reweigh evidence on appeal. View "New Mexico v. Wright" on Justia Law

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Defendant Charles Smith was convicted of battery against a household member. He appealed his conviction, arguing to both the district and Court of Appeals that, based on the evidence presented at trial, the metropolitan court erred by refusing to instruct the jury that the State had to prove that his conduct was unlawful. The Court of Appeals reversed the district court and concluded “that the court’s refusal to instruct on the essential element of unlawfulness was reversible error.” The State petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari and argued that an instruction on the statutory element of unlawfulness was not required because Defendant did not establish all the elements of a specific, recognized, legal defense. The Supreme Court found, however, that the State’s argument was contrary to New Mexico v. Osborne, 808 P.2d 624, which held that a defendant was not required to establish all the elements of “an exception or defense” when the term unlawful is used in a criminal statute. "Instead, when there is evidence that supports a defendant’s theory that the conduct is justifiable or excusable, a trial court has a duty to instruct the jury that the state must prove a defendant’s conduct was unlawful beyond a reasonable doubt." Although the Supreme Court's reasoning differed from the Court of Appeals, judgment was affirmed. View "New Mexico v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Defendant Sean Vest was convicted of aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer after he led an officer on a high-speed chase through rain-slicked streets during the early morning hours. Defendant’s case regarding a police chase required the New Mexico Supreme Court to interpret the aggravated fleeing statute, NMSA 1978, § 30-22-1.1 (2003). The question presented was whether the statute’s requirement that a defendant drive “in a manner that endangers the life of another” meant that another person was literally put in danger by Defendant’s conduct (actual endangerment) or whether dangerous driving that places a community at risk of harm was enough. The Court concluded that dangerous driving that posed a risk of endangerment was enough. View "New Mexico v. Vest" on Justia Law

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Defendant Davon Lymon shot Albuquerque Police Department (APD) Officer Daniel Webster six times during a traffic stop in 2015. Defendant was charged with, and convicted of: first-degree murder, two counts of tampering with evidence related to first-degree murder, forgery, shooting from a vehicle resulting in great bodily harm, receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle, and resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer. The trial court later vacated his convictions for shooting from a vehicle and one of the two tampering counts. On direct appeal, Defendant challenged the district court’s final verdict, claiming jury coercion, improper denial of a self-defense instruction, improper admission and improper exclusion of evidence, and juror misconduct. Defendant also argued these issues resulted in a cumulative error. The New Mexico Supreme Court found defendant’s arguments were not persuasive, and affirmed Defendant’s convictions. View "New Mexico v. Lymon" on Justia Law

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Defendant Antonio Cruz was convicted at his arraignment at a New Mexico magistrate court in 2017. His conviction was obtained through an uncounseled plea of no contest to a single count of misdemeanor criminal damage to property of a household member. At arraignment, he requested an attorney. The magistrate appointed the Law Offices of the Public Defender (LOPD) to represent him. One month later, an attorney from the LOPD entered an appearance in the case and sought to withdraw the uncounseled plea. The magistrate court denied the request to withdraw the plea and proceeded to sentencing. Defendant appealed. The district court dismissed the appeal without prejudice because Defendant did not bring the case to trial within six months. Subsequently, following a show cause hearing, the district court dismissed the appeal with prejudice and remanded the case to magistrate court to enforce the sentence. The Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal of the case. The New Mexico Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider Defendant’s argument he was denied due process and received ineffective assistance of counsel. After review, the Court concluded that Defendant’s plea was void because the magistrate court deprived Defendant of the right to counsel and due process by accepting his plea of no contest without providing him counsel. Furthermore, the Court concluded the district court lacked authority to dismiss Defendant’s timely-filed appeal because there was no longer a six-month rule applicable to district courts, and it was the State, not Defendant, that bore the burden of bringing a case to trial. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals’ affirmance of Defendant’s conviction was reversed. View "New Mexico v. Cruz" on Justia Law