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State v. Linares

Supreme Court of New Mexico

March 9, 2017

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
DESIREE LINARES, Defendant-Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF LINCOLN COUNTY James Waylon Counts, District Judge

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Martha Anne Kelly, Assistant Attorney General Albuquerque, NM for Appellant

          Bennett Baur, Chief Public Defender J.K. Theodosia Johnson, Assistant Public Defender Santa Fe, NM for Appellee


          JUDITH K. NAKAMURA, Justice

         {1} A court-appointed psychologist evaluated Defendant, Desiree Linares, and recommended that she be found incompetent to stand trial due to mental retardation.[1]See NMSA 1978, § 31-9-1.6 (1999). The State doubted the court-appointed psychologist's testing methodology and conclusions and requested an opportunity to conduct an independent evaluation utilizing its own expert. The district court granted this request, but because Linares had filed a speedy-trial motion and the proceedings had been fraught with needless and unexplained delay, the district court allowed the court-appointed psychologist to attend and observe the State's independent evaluation to ensure the issue of Linares's mental retardation was quickly resolved. The State insisted that this was unacceptable and unlawful and declined to conduct the evaluation because the court-appointed psychologist would be present. Ultimately, the district court accepted the court-appointed psychologist's recommendations and found Linares incompetent due to mental retardation. Linares was civilly committed to the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) and the criminal proceedings against her were dismissed.

         {2} In this direct appeal, the State contends that the district court abused its discretion and effectively denied it an opportunity for an "independent" evaluation by permitting the court-appointed psychologist to attend the second, independent evaluation which ultimately did not occur. The State also argues that the district court abused its discretion in concluding that Linares is incompetent to stand trial. Lastly, the State asserts that the procedural requirements of Section 31-9-1.6(B) and (C), which specify the procedures a district court must follow when committing a defendant to involuntary civil confinement, were not followed. We find no error in the proceedings below and affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         {3} Linares and Alexis Shields resided together as the foster children of Evelyn Miranda. In June 2011, Linares and Shields devised a plan to run away from Miranda's home. The children intended to place a piece of cloth soaked in nail polish remover over Miranda's mouth and nose rendering her unconscious, tie her down with electrical cords, steal her vehicle, and drive away. The children's ill-conceived plan went dreadfully awry. Miranda struggled with the children when they attempted to hold the cloth over her mouth. Linares restrained Miranda as Shields smothered Miranda with a pillow and suffocated her. The children fled in Miranda's vehicle but were later apprehended by the authorities.

         {4} Linares was indicted in June 2011 in the Twelfth Judicial District Court and charged as a serious youthful offender with first-degree (willful and deliberate) murder and (alternatively) first-degree felony murder.[2] Linares was also charged with a host of other lesser offenses.[3] Shortly after the indictment was filed, Linares filed a demand for speedy trial.

         {5} In the months following the indictment, Linares filed several unopposed motions to continue trial, and trial was postponed and reset several times. At the end of May 2012-nearly a year after Linares was indicted-Linares again sought a continuance, this time indicating that the parties required additional time to negotiate a plea. The court granted the motion and set an August 24, 2012, plea deadline.

         {6} The plea the parties negotiated required Linares to plead no-contest to first- degree (willful and deliberate) murder and to the other lesser charges for which she was indicted and to testify against Shields. In return, the State agreed to not seek adult sanctions against Linares but to commit her to the care of the Children, Youth, and Families Department until the age of 21.

         {7} The parties agreed that a predisposition study and report addressing Linares's amenability to treatment would be beneficial and Linares asked the court, citing NMSA 1978, § 32A-2-17 (2005), to order the Children Youth and Families Department to prepare a pre-disposition report. In August 2012, the court ordered Linares to undergo a predispositional diagnostic evaluation and Dr. Susan Cave was appointed by the court to conduct that evaluation.

         {8} Dr. Cave completed her evaluation on December 5, 2012, and concluded that Linares's intelligence quotient (IQ) is 68 and that she is mildly mentally retarded. Despite this conclusion, Dr. Cave determined that Linares was "minimally competent to proceed at sentencing."

         {9} The court held a change of plea hearing on December 13, 2012, to review the terms of the plea agreement the parties reached and to confirm that Linares understood the terms of the agreement and was entering into it voluntarily. At that hearing, the court asked both counsel why the case had been delayed so long, noted that plea negotiations had been ongoing for some time, and pointed out that trial had been set for the previous summer. No adequate explanation for the delay was forthcoming from either party.

         {10} On December 28, 2012, Linares withdrew her plea. Contrary to the parties' agreement, the district court was required by law to impose adult sanctions. See generally State v. Jones, 2010-NMSC-012, ¶ 17, 148 N.M. 1, 229 P.3d 474 (explaining that a serious youthful offender convicted of first-degree murder "must receive an adult sentence."). Trial was once more rescheduled, this time for March 2013.

         {11} In late January 2013, Linares moved for a hearing on mental retardation. One day after filing that motion, Linares moved to dismiss the case, which had been pending for nineteen months, on speedy-trial grounds.

         {12} An amended superseding grand jury indictment was filed in February 2013. The first-degree (willful deliberate) murder charge was dropped. Linares was charged with two alternative counts of felony murder[4] and several lesser offenses.[5]

         {13} At the end of February 2013, the district court entered a sua sponte order vacating the March 2013 trial setting. The court determined that Linares's possible incompetency precluded any further proceedings.

         {14} In June 2013, the State filed a motion to compel an independent evaluation of Linares's alleged mental retardation on the grounds that Dr. Cave's December 5, 2012, report contained problematic internal inconsistencies. The State emphasized that Dr. Cave's conclusion that Linares is mentally retarded, and thus, incompetent, could not be reconciled with Dr. Cave's conclusion that Linares was competent to enter into a plea. The State also emphasized that Dr. Cave submitted an additional report on May 13, 2013, in which she withdrew her initial conclusion that Linares was ever competent.[6] This subsequent report, the State argued, was further evidence that Dr. Cave's conclusions were suspect.

         {15} A hearing on the State's motion for an independent evaluation was held on March 14, 2014. At that hearing, the State called Dr. Noah Kaufman, a neuropsychologist, as a witness and elicited testimony from him that called into question both the methodology underlying Dr. Cave's assessment of Linares's IQ and Dr. Cave's determination that Linares is mildly mentally retarded.

         {16} At the end of the hearing, the court agreed that the State's concerns about the reliability of Dr. Cave's evaluation were legitimate and further concluded that the State should have an opportunity to perform an independent assessment of Linares's mental faculties. But growing concern about the delay that had plagued the proceedings prompted the court to grant defense counsel's request that Dr. Cave be permitted to attend the State's independent evaluation. The court made clear, however, that Dr. Cave could not participate or interfere with the State's evaluation in any way.

         {17} At the end of March 2014, the State filed a motion to prohibit Dr. Cave from attending its independent evaluation. At the motion hearing, Dr. Kaufman insisted that the rules of professional conduct governing psychologists precluded him from conducting a neuropsychological examination where a third-party observer would be present. The district court was unpersuaded and affirmed its earlier ruling that Dr. Cave could attend and observe the independent evaluation. The court made clear that its decision to permit Dr. Cave to attend was motivated by the court's desire to avoid any further delay in the proceedings and to ensure that the issue of Linares's mental retardation was resolved as efficiently and as quickly as possible. The State stood firm ...

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