Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
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Twenty-seven New Mexico county clerks sought an emergency writ to compel Respondent, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, to mail absentee ballots directly to all registered voters in lieu of conducting in-person voting in the June 2020 primary election. They requested this extraordinary relief because the primary election was scheduled amidst a global pandemic and national and statewide public health emergency: COVID-19, a novel, potentially fatal, viral disease that was spreading unchecked throughout the population. Petitioners alleged that in-person voting could not be conducted safely under those circumstances, and they urged the New Mexico Supreme Court to hold that the requested relief was necessary to protect the health of election workers, voters, and the general public. Respondent stipulated to the petition. The Supreme Court concluded the Election Code did not permit the Secretary of State to mail absentee ballots directly to voters without a prior request from the voter. However, the Election Code permitted the Secretary to mail absentee ballot applications to voters to encourage and facilitate absentee voting. Furthermore, the Court concluded that, under the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the "clear and present risk to public health presented by mass gatherings and the executive orders mandating that all branches of government take all lawful steps to mitigate that risk," the Secretary of State had a duty to exercise her power to the fullest extent of the law to promote the safety of election workers and voters while conducting the June 2020 primary election. Therefore, the Supreme Court issued a writ of mandamus ordering the Secretary of State to mail absentee ballot applications to eligible voters to encourage absentee voting and minimize the health risk to the public. This remedy "promotes the public health goals mandated by the Governor while not infringing on the Legislature’s plenary power to establish election procedures." The Court issued this opinion to explain its reasoning. View "New Mexico ex rel. Riddle v. Toulouse Oliver" 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

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In 2003, the decedent’s body was discovered lying on the living room floor of Defendant Ricky Quintana’s residence. The decedent had been stabbed multiple times, and his body had been subjected to mutilation, both before and after death. Defendant was charged with an open count of murder and tampering with evidence. In 2006, and again in 2014, the parties filed stipulations including that Defendant was incompetent to stand trial and remained dangerous, that clear and convincing evidence supported the charge of second-degree murder against Defendant, and that aggravating circumstances existed warranting the addition of three years to his statutory fifteen-year term of commitment. The district court based its order of commitment on findings by clear and convincing evidence from both hearings relating to two “valid aggravating factor[s].” Evidence had been presented at the hearings that Defendant had been in a state of psychosis when committing the murder charged and when previously attacking another victim in a separate incident, and that Defendant was not reliable to take his antipsychotic medications without supervision. Defendant appealed on the ground that enhancing a term of commitment based on aggravating circumstances was not permitted under the New Mexico Mental Illness and Competency Code (NMMIC). The Court of Appeals consequently affirmed the ruling of the district court that extended Defendant’s term of commitment based on aggravating circumstances. The New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed and issued this opinion to clarify that a term of commitment under Section 31-9-1.5 may be increased under Section 31-18- 15.1 due to aggravating circumstances that bear a direct relation to a defendant’s dangerousness and that are supported by clear and convincing evidence. View "New Mexico v. Quintana" on Justia Law

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In 2011, defendant Robert Chavez and co-conspirators beat and shot Richard Valdez. The victim’s body was found burned in a 2006 Suzuki station wagon. After a joint trial, Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, arson, and tampering with evidence due to his involvement in the murder of Victim. Defendant appealed, arguing: (1) the trial court erred when it failed to sever the joint trial; (2) his convictions violated principles of double jeopardy; and (3) there was insufficient evidence to support his arson conviction. Finding no reversible error, the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions. View "New Mexico v. Chavez" on Justia Law

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Defendant Anthony Blas Yepez was convicted of, among other crimes, second-degree murder. At issue before the New Mexico Supreme Court was the district court’s exclusion of proposed expert testimony concerning Yepez’s alleged genetic predisposition to impulsive violence: testimony Yepez offered on the issue of whether he had the deliberate intent to kill. The Supreme Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the testimony. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ holding on this issue, rejected Yepez’s cross-appeal, and affirmed his conviction. View "New Mexico v. Yepez" on Justia Law

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Defendant Lorenzo Martinez appealed his convictions for first- degree murder and third-degree criminal sexual penetration (CSP) of the victim (Victim) after she died. Defendant challenged his convictions on multiple grounds, most of which were controlled by precedent. However, the New Mexico Supreme Court reviewed one argument as a matter of first impression: whether a decedent constituted a “person” as that term was defined and used in NMSA Section 30-9-11(A). Based on the following reasoning, the Supreme Court determined that Victim constituted a person under the unique circumstances of CSP in this case, and therefore affirmed Defendant’s convictions. View "New Mexico v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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As part of a project to construct a new road along the North Diversion Channel, the City of Albuquerque initiated a condemnation proceeding to acquire a thirty-foot-wide strip of land across a 9.859-acre property (Property) owned by SMP Properties, LLC, whose managing member was R. Michael Pack (collectively, SMP). The district court granted Albuquerque entry and ordered the distribution of $143,850 to SMP as “just compensation” for the condemned property. SMP asserted it did not receive full compensation because, prior to initiating the condemnation action, Albuquerque directly communicated its intent to condemn a portion of the Property to one of SMP’s tenants, SAIA Motor Freight Line, LLC (SAIA). Hearing of Albuquerque’s intent to condemn, SAIA apparently decided not to renew its lease before Albuquerque filed the contemplated condemnation action, determining that the condemnation would disrupt its operation and use of the portion of the Property it leased. Based on Albuquerque’s pre-condemnation communications with SAIA and SAIA’s subsequent failure to renew its lease, SMP asserted an inverse condemnation claim against Albuquerque seeking consequential damages, including lost rental income and devaluation of the Property adjacent to the thirty-foot wide strip that Albuquerque condemned. Albuquerque moved for partial summary judgment on SMP’s “claims for consequential damages relating to the loss of potential tenant leases.” The district court granted Albuquerque summary judgment and concluded that Albuquerque’s pre-condemnation activity did not constitute “substantial[] interfere[nce] with the landowner’s use and enjoyment of the [P]roperty,” and therefore, no taking (in the form of an inverse condemnation) occurred. The Court of Appeals reversed the district court, finding there were disputed issues of material fact to preclude summary judgment. Though it did not adopt the appellate court’s reasoning, the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed reversal of summary judgment. View "City of Albuquerque v. SMP Props., LLC" on Justia Law

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The Harding County, New Mexico Board of County Commissioners, the Mosquero Municipal Schools Board of Education, and the Roy Municipal Schools Board of Education (collectively, Petitioners) petitioned for a writ of mandamus to compel the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department and the department’s Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke (collectively, the Department) to establish values for two high-voltage transmission lines in Harding County and report those values to the Harding County Assessor (Assessor) so that property taxes could be assessed on the lines. A district court issued the writ, and a dispute arose over whether the Department complied as ordered. Petitioners moved for an order to show cause, and requested fees associated with petitioning for the writ. After full briefing and a hearing, the district court held the Department in contempt for failing to comply with the district court’s order and awarded Petitioners their costs and fees related to the order to show cause. The Department appealed and sought review of the Peremptory Writ, the contempt holding, and the award of costs and fees. The Court of Appeals declined to review the merits of the Peremptory Writ, concluding that the Department failed to timely appeal that final order. However, the Court of Appeals reviewed the “issues relating to the Contempt Order and the Order for Fees and Costs” and affirmed the district court. The Department petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court for certiorari review pursuant to Rule 12-502 NMRA. The Court granted certiorari, and finding no reversible error, affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Harding Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs v. N.M. Tax'n & Revenue Dep't" on Justia Law