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State v. Brown

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

March 2, 2017

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
WALTER ERNEST BROWN, Defendant-Appellee.


          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Maris Veidemanis, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellant

          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender Mary Barket, Assistant Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Appellee


          TIMOTHY L. GARCIA, Judge.

         {1} The State of New Mexico appeals the dismissal of Defendant Walter Brown's case on the grounds that Defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated by the forty-two-month delay in the prosecution of his case. We conclude that each of the four Barker factors weigh in Defendant's favor. See Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530-32 (1972). Accordingly, we affirm the district court's dismissal.


         {2} Defendant was arrested on May 26, 2011, and charged with the murder of James Moore (Victim), whose death occurred during an incident that took place on May 13, 2011. Defendant, an individual with an intelligence quotient (IQ) of approximately seventy, was asked by his friend, Rebecca Duran (Duran), to accompany her to a home she had been staying at to get her belongings. Defendant, Duran, and a friend arrived at the home to find it locked, and after no one came to the front door the group entered through a sliding glass door in the rear of the house. Once inside, they were confronted by Victim. An altercation ensued, Victim pushed Defendant's friend, and Defendant fatally stabbed Victim once in the heart with a pocket knife.

         {3} To avoid a repetitious discussion of the pretrial events, we discuss the events in detail here and refer to them more generally in our speedy trial analysis below. Defendant's case was joined with the cases of three other individuals charged as a result of the stabbing incident. Defendant was indicted and charged with one count of second degree murder, pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 30-2-1(B) (1994), or the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter, pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 30-2-3(A) (1994), or in the alternative, one count of first degree felony murder, pursuant to Section 30-2-1(A)(2); seven separate counts of conspiracy, pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 30-28-2 (1979), including numerous alternative theories; one counts of aggravated battery, pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 30-3-5(A), (C) (1969), one count of aggravated burglary, pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 30-16-4(A) (1963); and two counts of tampering with evidence, pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 30-22-5 (2003). Defendant's bond was set at $250, 000. Defendant remained in custody for thirty-three months after his arrest until our Supreme Court addressed Defendant's appeal of his pretrial conditions of release. See State v. Brown, 2014-NMSC-038, ¶ 1, 338 P.3d 1276.

         {4} Defense counsel made his first appearance on June 28, 2011, and made a written demand for speedy trial on behalf of Defendant. In December 2011 the presiding judge retired, and his position remained vacant until March 2012. Between April 2, 2012, and April 19, 2012, Defendant and a co-defendant each exercised one peremptory excusal. Trial was set before another district court judge to commence on March 25, 2013.

         {5} During the eleven-month period from April 20, 2012 to March 19, 2013, the State asserted that it was "still working on the case some, but not as much." During this period, Defendant made a plea offer. The State took several months to review the plea offer and eventually made a counter-offer. On February 12, 2013, the district court moved the trial to April 29, 2013, to accommodate the joined cases. On March 19, 2013, after plea negotiations stalled, Defendant filed a motion to sever his case from the co-defendants. In response, the State filed a motion to continue the April 29, 2013, trial setting. The State also claimed some confusion and stated that, while it did not oppose the severance motion, it would have retained the March 25, 2013, trial setting had it known of Defendant's intent to sever his case from the co-defendants.

         {6} With the April 2013 trial continued, the parties resumed preparations and proceeded to file and address various motions, including Defendant's motion to review his conditions of release. At a hearing in July 2013, defense counsel argued its position regarding the review of Defendant's conditions of release and detailed Defendant's personal situation, including informing the district court that there were two jobs available to Defendant. Defendant also asked the district court to interview or ask questions of pretrial services personnel who apparently supported Defendant's position and were present in court. The district court granted Defendant's motion to sever but denied Defendant's motion to review conditions of release, citing only the "nature of the allegations" as the basis for its denial. See Brown, 2014-NMSC-038, ¶¶ 7, 48.

         {7} Following the July 15, 2013 hearing, the parties continued their preparations for the upcoming trial. The district court set a new trial date for November 12, 2013. At the November 5, 2013 docket call, Defendant asked for a continuance for two reasons, (1) because defense counsel was unavailable for trial the next week; and (2) defense counsel believed the status of the pending motions indicated the case was not ready to proceed to trial. The State argued that the motions could be disposed of before the scheduled trial began. The district court granted Defendant's request based on counsel's unavailability.

         {8} At a hearing on November 27, 2013, the district court considered the outstanding motions but did not rule on them until March 20, 2014. On December 18, 2013, the district court held a second hearing to review Defendant's pretrial conditions of release. The defense again presented evidence detailing the Defendant's suitability for pretrial release. Again, the court denied any changes to Defendant's pretrial conditions of release based solely on the nature of one of the allegations-a first degree murder charge. Under Rule 12-204 NMRA, Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to amend his conditions of release. On February 19, 2014, our Supreme Court heard Defendant's appeal and ordered that the Defendant be released on nonmonetary conditions pending trial. See Brown, 2014-NMSC-038, ¶¶ 11, 55.

         {9} At the presentment hearing held on March 20, 2014, the presiding judge appeared confused as to why the hearing had been scheduled and did not seem to remember the issues, arguments, or matters that he took under advisement at the November 27, 2013 hearing. After the presentment hearing, the parties expressed concern regarding the district court judge's ability to continue to preside over the case. The parties filed a joint motion stipulating to the appointment of a new presiding judge. The motion was eventually granted, and a new judge was appointed on July 24, 2014. The former presiding judge later publicly acknowledged his Alzheimer's disease diagnosis.

         {10} Also following the March 20, 2014 presentment hearing, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds. The newly appointed presiding judge denied this motion on September 30, 2014. The district court found that, although three of the Barker factors weighed in Defendant's favor, Defendant had not shown sufficient prejudice. The district court further recognized that because no transcript was provided from our Supreme Court's hearing on the appeal of Defendant's motion to amend his conditions of release, the district court could not "determine whether the fact of pretrial incarceration itself was actual prejudice."

         {11} Our Supreme Court released the Brown opinion on November 6, 2014, and one day later, Defendant filed a notice of correction and supplemental authority alerting the district court to the Brown opinion. See 2014-NMSC-038. After reviewing Defendant's supplemental pleadings and the Brown opinion, the district court granted Defendant's speedy trial motion for dismissal. After a total delay of forty-two months, the order dismissing the case was entered on November 25, 2014. The State filed a timely appeal.


         A. General Principles and Standard of Review

         {12} The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial[.]" See State v. Garza, 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 10, 146 N.M. 499, 212 P.3d 387 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The New Mexico Constitution offers similar protection and provides that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have the right to . . . a speedy public trial." N.M. Const. art. II, § 14. This right recognizes that "there is a societal interest in bringing an accused to trial" and "[t]he heart of the right . . . is preventing prejudice to the accused." Garza, 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 12.

         {13} Our Supreme Court adopted the United States Supreme Court's balancing test articulated in the Barker decision. See Garza, 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 13. The United States Supreme Court identified four factors to be weighed by the court in analyzing a defendant's claim: (1) the length of delay in bringing the case to trial, (2) the reasons for the delay, (3) the defendant's assertion of the right to a speedy trial, and (4) the actual prejudice to the defendant caused by the delay. Id. "Each of these factors is weighed either in favor of or against the [s]tate or the defendant, and then balanced to determine if a defendant's right to a speedy trial was violated." State v. Spearman, 2012-NMSC-023, ¶ 17, 283 P.3d 272. "[T]he factors have no talismanic qualities, and none of them are a necessary or sufficient condition to the finding of a violation of the right [to a] speedy trial." Id. ¶ 18 (alteration, internal quotation marks, and citation omitted). "Rather they are related factors and must be considered together with such other circumstances as may be relevant." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In our review of a speedy trial ruling, this Court must "give ...

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