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State v. Rivas

Supreme Court of New Mexico

June 19, 2017

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JUAN RIVAS, Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF LEA COUNTY Mark Sanchez, District Judge.

          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender David Henderson, Assistant Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Appellant.

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Kenneth H. Stalter, Assistant Attorney General Albuquerque, NM for Appellee.

          OPINION

          PETRA JIMENEZ MAES, Justice.

         {1} In this case we examine the circumstances under which detectives may question a juvenile defendant in the absence of and without notification of a court-appointed attorney or court-appointed guardian ad litem. Juan Rivas's (Defendant) convictions arose from his killing of eighty-three-year-old Clara Alvarez as she slept in her bed on July 29, 2011. Defendant was fifteen years old at the time. The State filed a petition alleging several delinquent acts under the New Mexico Children's Code (Children's Code) and added an allegation that Defendant was a serious youthful offender under the Children's Code, given his charge of first-degree murder. Evidence presented at trial included two statements Defendant had made to detectives. Defendant made the first statement prior to the filing of the petition, and the second after the filing and after a detention hearing was held and guardian and counsel were appointed. Based on the evidence presented, a jury convicted Defendant of first-degree murder, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. Defendant was then sentenced to life imprisonment. Defendant appeals directly to this Court, as mandated by the New Mexico Constitution and our Rules of Appellate Procedure. See N.M. Const. art. VI, § 2; Rule 12-102(A)(1) NMRA. We affirm Defendant's convictions and sentence.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         {2} In the early morning hours of July 29, 2011, Defendant, fifteen years old at the time, snuck into Clara Alvarez's backyard along with his thirteen-year-old friend E.S. Alvarez was eighty-three years old and lived alone. Defendant and E.S. remained in Alvarez's backyard for about an hour. As they remained, Defendant searched for an entry point into the house, fashioned a weapon out of a stick, and dispatched E.S. to his grandmother's house to get scissors. E.S. left for his grandmother's house but did not return to Alvarez's house that day.

         {3} Defendant eventually broke into the house alone. He walked through the house, entered Alvarez's bedroom, and stabbed her multiple times with his stick and a knife from her kitchen as she slept in her bed. After determining Alvarez was dead, he drove away from the house in her car. Defendant returned to the house multiple times over the next two days, enlisting his younger brother, B.R., and other friends to assist with disposal of Alvarez's body.

         {4} Just after midnight on August 1, responding to a welfare check request, police officers entered Alvarez's home and found her body in the bedroom, wrapped in a mattress pad and telephone cord. The officers secured the house and called for investigation by a detective unit. Investigators later recovered a left palm print on Alvarez's washing machine, which returned a match for Defendant's print.

         {5} Later that day, Sergeant Shane Blevins drove to Defendant's house, hoping to question him. As Blevins drove in the vicinity of the house, he passed a woman and a young man on foot. When he arrived at the house, he observed a vehicle matching the description of the vehicle taken from Alvarez's house. Blevins then returned to the people he had passed on the street, identified himself as a police officer, and asked the young man his name. The young man replied by giving the name B.R. and explained the woman with him was his mother. Blevins told them he was looking for Juan Rivas. On further questioning, Mrs. Rivas and the young man agreed to accompany Blevins in his police cruiser to the police station to answer additional questions. With the two in tow, Blevins drove back to Defendant's house briefly to drop off the Rivases' dog, and they arrived just as two other individuals were arriving. The two individuals identified themselves as Juan Rivas Sr. (Mr. Rivas) and B.R. Based on those revelations, Blevins soon learned the young man who had previously identified himself as B.R. was actually Juan Rivas Jr.-Defendant in this case. Officers then drove Defendant and his parents to the station for questioning.

         {6} Defendant arrived at the station at around 9:30 p.m. that evening, and officers placed him in an interview room.[1] Detective Nathan Eubank entered the room and introduced himself, and Defendant did the same. Eubank asked Defendant for his date of birth; Defendant responded by asking, "Why?" Eubank explained he was investigating a murder and needed to establish some preliminary information before they could talk about it. "All right, " Defendant replied.

         {7} Eubank then explained he would read Defendant certain rights he was granted as a juvenile, and Defendant asked, "Why a juvenile, though?" Eubank explained the State was "very particular" about Defendant's rights because he was a juvenile, under eighteen years of age. Defendant acknowledged the explanation, and Eubank added that Defendant should say something if he failed to understand any of the rights read. Defendant replied, "Yes, sir." Eubank reiterated that he was investigating a murder and then read Defendant an explanation of various rights, verbatim, from a New Mexico juvenile advice of rights form.

         {8} Once finished, Eubank asked if Defendant had understood it all, and Defendant hesitated, wondering about "the last one." Eubank explained again that Defendant had the right to have an attorney present as Eubank asked questions, that Defendant was not required to speak with Eubank at all, and that if he did speak, he had the right to stop speaking at any time. On hearing that, Defendant asked, "Oh, so I just stop talking to you?" Eubank replied, "Yeah, you just say, 'I don't want to talk anymore.' " Defendant suggested he understood, responding, "All right, then, man." Eubank asked Defendant to print and sign his name on the advice of rights form, which would signify "that he understood all of that, " and Defendant did so. (9} Eubank then showed Defendant text at the bottom of the advice of rights form, asked him to read it, and asked him to indicate by marking where specified whether he was willing to speak with Eubank. Defendant read the text aloud, which inquires of individuals being questioned: "[a]fter being advised of your rights and with those rights in mind, do you wish to voluntarily give up those rights and talk to me now?" Defendant responded affirmatively and indicated his affirmation by marking "yes" as specified on the form. After Defendant had signed and marked the form, Eubank noted that with the legal "mumbo jumbo" out of the way, they could discuss the matters Eubank was investigating.

         {10} Defendant explained he had chosen Alvarez's house to burglarize because he "liked her car." He had "just got angry" that night, he noted, and it had gotten out of hand. He and E.S. had been together in Alvarez's backyard, but eventually he had "socked out" E.S., causing him to leave. Defendant had ripped open a window screen to gain entry to the house, he explained, and he had then walked from the laundry room to Alvarez's bedroom. He had, he noted, taken a "stick" from Alvarez's backyard into the bedroom. Eubank asked if Alvarez had looked at Defendant at that point; Defendant responded that she "didn't have a chance" and that he "was just laughing" as he stabbed her repeatedly with the stick. Defendant acknowledged he had taken a knife from Alvarez's kitchen and had stabbed her with that as well. He left the stick, he noted, in Alvarez's bedroom. He maintained throughout the interview that he had acted alone in breaking into Alvarez's house and killing her.

         {11} Eubank then asked where Defendant had stabbed Alvarez. "I don't know, " Defendant responded, "I was just going at her"; he added he could feel "happy" only after he "got out" all of his anger. That accomplished, he noted, he had taken rosaries, jewelry, and money from Alvarez's house. He then burned his clothes, washed and disposed of his shoes, and told his mother the police would find him. As Defendant described the jewelry he had taken from Alvarez's house, Eubank asked Defendant if earlier he had been wearing a ring that belonged to Alvarez. Defendant responded that he had been and asked Eubank if he wanted it. Defendant briefly searched his pockets, located the ring, and handed it to Eubank, confirming he had taken it from Alvarez's house. Defendant acknowledged he had done some very "serious" things. Eubank asked Defendant if he had any remorse-to which Defendant responded, "Nah."

         {12} On August 2, 2011, the State filed a delinquency petition in children's court, alleging Defendant had committed first-degree murder, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. The same day, the State added a motion to join Juan Rivas Sr. as a party to the petition. Defendant was held in a juvenile detention facility.

         {13} Defendant appeared in children's court on August 3 for a detention hearing, as prescribed by statute. At that hearing-Defendant's first appearance in court in the proceeding-the district judge advised Defendant he had various rights, including a right to representation by an attorney at all stages of the proceedings. The district judge then appointed a public defender for Defendant, and the public defender shortly thereafter entered a not guilty plea on Defendant's behalf. Based on information Mr. Rivas might have knowledge regarding the incidents of that evening and might have interests diverging from Defendant's, an assigned juvenile probation officer recommended a guardian ad litem be appointed to represent Defendant's best interests. Based on that recommendation, the court appointed Defendant a guardian ad litem but made no other specific findings supporting the appointment. The court's written order specified only that "[t]he child has no parent, guardian or custodian appearing on behalf of the child, or his/her interests are in conflict with those of the child."

         {14} The State also filed on August 3 a notice of intent to seek an adult sentence, alleging that Defendant was a serious youthful offender. The children's court ordered the case set for a preliminary hearing before the district court. (15} The district court held the preliminary hearing a few months later, on November 17, 2011. After finding probable cause on each of the charges, the judge bound Defendant over for trial in district court on each of the four counts. Defendant was arraigned in district court on December 19, 2011.

         {16} In the interim, as Defendant awaited his preliminary hearing in district court, Mr. Rivas called Eubank on August 5 and left a message indicating Defendant had an urgent desire to speak with Eubank. On August 6, Eubank and his colleague, Detective Conger, visited with Defendant at the juvenile detention center, where he was being held. Eubank explained Defendant's father had left word with the detectives that Defendant hoped to speak with them, and asked if that was true. Defendant responded affirmatively.

         {17} Much as he had a few days prior when they first met, Eubank read Defendant the script verbatim from the standard juvenile advice of rights form and asked Defendant to indicate where appropriate on the form if he wished to speak with the detectives. And again, Defendant indicated he would indeed speak with them.

         {18} At this meeting, however, Defendant gave an account different from the one he had given a few days earlier. Defendant maintained that E.S. had actually participated in killing Alvarez and that it had been E.S.'s plan all along. Moreover, Defendant added, E.S. had revealed he was following directions from a person named "Scooby." Scooby was apparently "big and connected, " Defendant explained, and had numerous tattoos. Defendant acknowledged in this account that he had stabbed Alvarez, but he reported E.S. had retrieved and actually used the knives from the kitchen. It was also E.S.'s idea, Defendant added, to take the money and jewelry from the house. E.S. had advised Defendant to take the blame, Defendant insisted, and had promised to "help" should Defendant be caught.

         {19} Defendant's case was set for trial in December 2012. On December 6, 2012, just two business days before trial was scheduled to begin, Defendant's counsel moved to suppress the second statement Defendant had made to the detectives. Eubank had made no effort to contact Defendant's counsel prior to the second interview, counsel noted, and thus he contended the interview had violated Defendant's federal and state constitutional rights to counsel, as well as his statutory right to counsel provided by the Children's Code. Defendant's counsel made reference to the statement Defendant gave in his second interview as Defendant's "second" statement, and he explained a failure to move to suppress this second statement would render him "doubly ineffective." Defendant's counsel made no motion of any kind, however, with respect to the first statement.

         {20} The State advanced two arguments in response. The motion was untimely under Rule 5-601 NMRA, the State noted, and its appearance on the eve of what promised to be a lengthy trial was highly prejudicial. And regardless of the timeliness of the motion, the State added, no right had been violated because Defendant had knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his rights prior to giving the statement.

         {21} The district court heard argument on Defendant's motion on the day of jury selection-the opening day of trial. The court reviewed an audio recording of a phone call between Eubank and Mr. Rivas, a recording of Defendant's second interview with the detectives, and the standard advice of rights and waiver form Defendant had read and signed in the course of both the August 1 and August 6 interviews. After hearing arguments from the parties, the court noted the motion was untimely and should be denied on that ground alone. But even on the merits, the court explained, the record revealed Defendant had desired to speak with the detectives, he had been adequately advised regarding his rights, and he had understood and answered questions appropriately in the interview. Those factors, the district court concluded, indicated Defendant had known he had a right to an attorney and he had knowingly and voluntarily waived the right. The district court thus denied the motion and took up the trial as scheduled.

         {22} The State presented a comprehensive case at trial, including numerous witnesses and at least two hundred exhibits, which included recordings of Defendant's two separate interviews with the detectives. Defendant was eventually convicted of all four counts-first-degree murder, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle-and sentenced to a term of life imprisonment. Defendant appealed directly to this Court, contending (1) his various trial counsel were ineffective for failing to move to suppress statements he made in his August 1 interview, and (2) the district court erred in denying suppression of statements he made in his August 6 interview. See N.M. Const. ...


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