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State v. Gundersen

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

April 25, 2017

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
PATRICIA GUNDERSEN, Defendant-Appellant.

         This memorandum opinion was not selected for publication in the New Mexico Appellate Reports. Please see Rule 12-405 NMRA for restrictions on the citation of unpublished memorandum opinions. Please also note that this electronic memorandum opinion may contain computer-generated errors or other deviations from the official paper version filed by the Court of Appeals and does not include the filing date

         APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF CHAVES COUNTY Charles C. Currier, District Judge

          Hector Balderas, Attorney General Santa Fe, NM John Kloss, Assistant Attorney General Albuquerque, NM for Appellee.

          Patricia Gundersen Roswell, NM Pro Se Appellant.



         {1} Defendant Patricia Gundersen, a self-represented party, appeals her conviction for violations of the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Code, NMSA 1978, §§ 66-1-1 to -8-141 (1978, as amended through 2016), specifically Section 66-3-805 (tail lamps) and Section 66-3-19 (declaring it unlawful to operate a vehicle on a highway if registration requirements under Motor Vehicle Code are not met). Defendant contests the lawfulness of the traffic stop and argues that it was made without reasonable suspicion and by an officer acting without the power of law. Defendant further argues that her conviction under Section 66-3-19 was without substantial evidence. We affirm Defendant's convictions.


         {2} On the evening of August 19, 2011, Defendant was traveling southbound in a grey Dodge pickup on Brown Road in Chaves County, New Mexico when she passed State Police Officer Julian Torrez traveling northbound. Officer Torrez observed from his driver-side mirror that the license plate lamp of the pickup was not illuminated. Officer Torrez made a u-turn and followed Defendant down Brown Road and onto Matthews Street. Officer Torrez had his emergency lights on when he stopped behind Defendant's vehicle, which was parked outside her home. Officer Torrez approached Defendant, who had exited the vehicle, and requested her driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance, which she was unable to provide. Officer Torrez observed that Defendant had a temporary registration plate in the window of the vehicle that had expired on May 28, 2011. Officer Torrez issued Defendant three citations: one for failure to have insurance, one for no license plate lamp, and one for an expired temporary registration. On January 11, 2012, the magistrate court found Defendant guilty of the three charges, in violation of Sections 66-3-19, 66-3-805, and 66-5-205. Defendant appealed to the district court.

         {3} The district court held a bench trial on Defendant's de novo appeal. Officer Torrez testified as the State's sole witness. On cross-examination, Defendant made an "oral motion to suppress." Defendant argued that Officer Torrez relied on a mistake of law in basing his traffic stop only on the pickup's missing registration plate, citing State v. Anaya, 2008-NMCA-020, 143 N.M. 431, 176 P.3d 1163, abrogated on other grounds as recognized by State v. Dopslaf, 2015-NMCA-098, ¶ 10, 356 P.3d 559. Defendant reasoned that the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment. Defendant argued that because her vehicle had no registration plate attached to the bumper, the lighting requirements under Section 66-3-805 did not apply and, as a result, there was no reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop. The district court ruled there was reasonable, articulable suspicion that Defendant committed a traffic violation and Officer Torrez followed up in a reasonable manner. The district court denied Defendant's oral motion that it construed as a motion to suppress Officer Torrez's testimony. Defendant later made a motion for a directed verdict and pursuant to that motion, the district court accepted that Defendant's vehicle was on private property at the time that Officer Torrez's emergency lights were engaged and where the ultimate stop occurred. The district court decided that neither of these factual aspects of the stop "[were] determinative in this case." The district court found Defendant guilty, pursuant to Sections 66-3-805 and 66-3-19 and not guilty, pursuant to Section 66-5-205. This appeal followed.


         I. The Stop of Defendant's Vehicle Was Both Reasonable and Lawful

         {4} Defendant makes two arguments regarding the legality of the traffic stop. First, Defendant argues that Officer Torrez did not have "an objectively reasonable basis" for conducting the stop as it was based on a mistake of law. Second, Defendant argues that the stop was illegal as it did not occur on a public roadway, and the State presented no substantive evidence that Officer Torrez had permission to enforce a traffic violation by "initiating the seizure of Defendant entirely on a private road."

         A. Officer Torrez Had Reasonable Suspicion to Stop Defendant's Vehicle

         {5} We review Defendant's challenge to the stop strictly under the Fourth Amendment as she does not assert any broader protections pursuant to Article II, Section 10 of the New Mexico Constitution. See State v. Gomez, 1997-NMSC-006, ¶ 22, 122 N.M. 777, 932 P.2d 1 (applying New Mexico's interstitial approach to preserve any question regarding broader constitutional protection under our State Constitution); see also State v. Hubble, 2009-NMSC-014, ¶ 6, 146 N.M. 70, 206 P.3d 579 (stating that where a defendant did not assert that the New Mexico Constitution afforded greater protection than the Federal Constitution, the appellate courts will address only the issue of reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment). The basis of Defendant's Fourth Amendment argument is that Officer Torrez committed a mistake of law in believing that she was in violation of Section 66-3-805, which she contends was a misinterpretation of the statute. "A review of the suppression of evidence is a mixed question of law and fact." Anaya, 2008-NMCA-020, ΒΆ 5. "While we generally defer to the district court's findings of fact if the findings are supported by substantial evidence, as a mixed question of ...

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