Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
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The State charged Defendant Manuel Baca with an open count of murder by criminal complaint. The district court found by clear and convincing evidence that Defendant committed first-degree murder and determined that he was dangerous, but not competent to stand trial. The district court ordered Defendant detained by the New Mexico Department of Health (Department) pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 31-9- 1.5(D) (1999). Defendant appealed that order, contesting the sufficiency of the evidence. Although Defendant had not been convicted of first-degree murder, Defendant still faced a lifetime detention. The New Mexico Supreme Court determined sufficient evidence supported Defendant's criminal commitment for life, thus affirming the district court's order. View "New Mexico v. Baca" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jason Comitz was convicted of first-degree felony murder (by shooting at a dwelling) and second-degree murder for the death of the same person, four counts of aggravated battery of two other victims, two counts of aggravated assault of the same two victims, two counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery of the same two victims, and one count each of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, shooting at a dwelling, conspiracy to shoot at the same dwelling, and child abuse. The New Mexico Supreme Court was asked to address: (1) whether the State’s evidence was sufficient to prove the crime of shooting at a dwelling and conspiracy to shoot at a dwelling; (2) whether multiple convictions violated Defendant’s right under the United States Constitution to be free from double jeopardy; and (3) whether the district court erred in failing to declare a mistrial on grounds that the State allegedly elicited bad-act evidence in violation of its pretrial ruling. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions of second-degree murder under Count 1, one count of aggravated battery under Count 3, one count of aggravated battery under Count 4, one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery under Count 5, one count of aggravated assault under Count 6, one count of aggravated assault under Count 7, and one count of child abuse under Count 9, together with the associated firearm enhancements as decided by the jury. The Court vacated Defendant’s other convictions. The matter was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "New Mexico v. Comitz" on Justia Law

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The New Mexico Secretary of State sought to reinstate straight-ticket voting in the November 2018 general election. A coalition of voters, political parties, and political organizations (Petitioners) sought mandamus relief from the New Mexico Supreme Court to order the Secretary to stop and make no further efforts to reinstate the straight-ticket option on grounds that she did not possess authority to do so. "Whether straight-ticket voting shall once more be a ballot option in general elections in New Mexico is a policy question for our Legislature. The Legislature cannot delegate election policy determinations." The Court concluded the Secretary’s efforts without legislative approval violated separation of powers principles and was unlawful. The petition for writ of mandamus was therefore granted. View "Unite New Mexico v. Oliver" on Justia Law

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Defendant Nathaniel Yazzie entered a conditional plea of no contest to attempt to commit negligent child abuse following the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress. Defendant moved to suppress all of the evidence gathered after Officer William Temples of the Farmington, New Mexico Police Department entered his unlocked apartment without a warrant in response to a welfare check. This entry, defendant argued, violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The State argued the entry was reasonable under the emergency assistance doctrine. By this opinion, the New Mexico Supreme Court revisited the circumstances under which an officer may make a warrantless entry into a home under the emergency assistance doctrine. Relying on cases interpreting the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the New Mexico Court held that in New Mexico v. Ryon, 108 P.3d 1032, warrantless entry is reasonable under the emergency assistance doctrine when (1) law enforcement officers “have reasonable grounds to believe that there is an emergency at hand and an immediate need for assistance for the protection of life or property;” (2) the officer's primary motivation for the search is a “strong sense of emergency” and not “to arrest a suspect or to seize evidence[;]” and (3) the officers have some reasonable basis, approximating probable cause, to connect the emergency to the area to be searched. The U.S. Supreme Court clarified the doctrine, focusing on the objective reasonableness of the officer's actions and did not include a subjective component. Applying this approach, the New Mexico Court concluded the officer's warrantless entry in this case was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, reversing the Court of Appeals which concluded otherwise. View "New Mexico v. Yazzie" on Justia Law

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Defendant Andrew Romero appealed his convictions arising from the shooting death of Rio Rancho Police Officer Gregg Nigel Benner during a traffic stop. Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder; two counts of tampering with evidence; shooting at or from a motor vehicle; conspiracy to commit armed robbery; aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer; and concealing identity. The sentencing jury found aggravating circumstances in Defendant’s first-degree murder conviction because Defendant murdered Officer Benner when Officer Benner was acting in the lawful discharge of an official duty and Defendant knew Officer Benner to be a peace officer at the time of the crime. The trial court sentenced Defendant to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus sixty years. Defendant appealed directly to the New Mexico Supreme Court, raising eleven issues. The Supreme Court affirmed all of Defendant’s convictions except for his conviction of shooting at or from a motor vehicle, which was vacated on double jeopardy grounds. View "New Mexico v. Romero" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the tragic death of an innocent eight-year-old child as a result of a violent confrontation between two groups of men. A jury convicted defendant David Candelaria of first-degree depraved mind murder, two counts of shooting at or from a motor vehicle, and three counts of aggravated assault. One count of shooting at or from a motor vehicle was later vacated on double jeopardy grounds. The district court sentenced Defendant to life in prison plus nine years. Defendant appealed his convictions for depraved mind murder and aggravated assault, asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to vacated the convictions or order a new trial. Finding no reason to overturn the trial court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed defendant's convictions. View "New Mexico v. Candelaria" on Justia Law

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In Moses v. Skanders (Moses II), the New Mexico Supreme Court considered whether using public funds to lend textbooks to private school students violated Article XII, Section 3. In Moses II, the Court held the plain meaning and history of Article XII, Section 3 forbade such lending. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently vacated the New Mexico Court's judgment and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 137 S.Ct. 2012 (2017). On remand, the New Mexico Court concluded its previous interpretation of Article XII, Section 3 raised concerns under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. To avoid constitutional concerns, the Court held that the textbook loan program, did not result in use of public funds in support of private schools as prohibited by Article XII, Section 3. The Court also held the textbook loan program was consistent with Article IV, Section 31 of the New Mexico Constitution, which addressed appropriations for educational purposes, and Article IX, Section 14 of the New Mexico Constitution. View "Moses v. Ruszkowski" on Justia Law

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Petitioner David Lukens, Jr. sought habeas relief, claiming he received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The issues he raised before the New Mexico Supreme Court centered on: (1) whether prejudice due to deficient performance of Petitioner’s attorney should be presumed or whether Petitioner had to prove that actual prejudice occurred on direct appeal; and (2) if there was prejudice, whether the remedy should be a new appeal. Although the performance of Petitioner’s appellate counsel on direct appeal (Appellate Counsel) was clearly deficient in certain instances, the Supreme Court held that prejudice may not be presumed because the performance of Appellate Counsel did not deprive Petitioner of his constitutional right to a direct appeal of his conviction. Furthermore, the Court held that Petitioner failed to establish actual prejudice in his direct appeal. Because Petitioner did not establish prejudice, the Court did not reach the question of remedy. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s denial of the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. View "Lukens v. Franco" on Justia Law

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New Mexico prosecuted Defendant Kelson Lewis under a five-count indictment. The only count at issue in this appeal was Count 1, under which Defendant was charged with criminal sexual contact of a minor (CSCM). At the close of the State’s case at trial, the district court granted the State’s motion to amend the CSCM charge from second to third degree and granted Defendant’s motion to include battery as a lesser included offense under Count 1. The issue this case presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court's review in this appeal centered on two issues which arise when a jury is asked to render a verdict on a count that includes both greater and lesser offenses and it deadlocks in its deliberations on the greater offense. The Court held that a district court satisfies the requirements under Rule 5-611(D) when it has established a clear record as to which offense the jury is deadlocked. Strict compliance with the provisions of Rule 5-611(D) is not necessary to fulfill its purpose. Further, the Court recognized an ambiguity in the existing jury instructions regarding the order in which a jury must deliberate on counts which include both greater and lesser included offenses. The Court resolved this ambiguity and provided guidance to courts and litigants, and adopted approach to jury instructions that enables the jury to consider both the greater and lesser offenses under a count in any order it deems appropriate provided it return a verdict of not guilty on the greater offense before the court may accept a verdict on the lesser included offense. View "New Mexico v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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On November 1, 2011, officers discovered Defendant Matias Loza smelling strongly of gasoline and cowering under a fifth-wheel trailer. One hundred yards away, a Suzuki automobile containing the human remains of Richard Valdez was fully engulfed in flames. Shoeprints in the area were consistent with the shoes Defendant was wearing. After claiming that he had been brought to the area by a truck, which he had just escaped after being shot at by its occupants, Defendant offered one of the officers $40,000 to let him go free. Following a more extensive investigation into Defendant’s background and his reasons for being so near the murder scene, detectives ascertained Defendant was connected with the AZ Boys gang, and gathered further intelligence from anonymous sources that Defendant had in fact served as a hitman and killed Valdez in connection with the gang’s drug trafficking activity. In this case, the issue before the New Mexico Supreme Court was whether defendant’s racketeering convictions foreclosed a subsequent prosecution for the crimes alleged as the predicate offenses in the earlier racketeering case. In support of the racketeering charges, the State alleged the underlying predicate offenses of murder, arson, and bribery of a public officer. The State then sought to prosecute Defendant for the crimes alleged as the predicate offenses in the earlier prosecution-murder, arson, and bribery-as well as other related charges. Defendant contended this subsequent prosecution violated his Fifth Amendment right against double jeopardy, and the his Article II, Section 15 rights from the New Mexico Constitution. Disagreeing that double jeopardy attached to the subsequent prosecution, the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to dismiss. View "New Mexico v. Loza" on Justia Law