FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF BERNALILLO COUNTY Judith K.
Nakamura, District Judge
H. Balderas, Attorney General Maris Veidemanis, Assistant
Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellant.
E. Tangora, L.L.C. Robert E. Tangora Santa Fe, NM for
MONICA ZAMORA, JUDGE
The State appeals from the district court's order
excluding witnesses resulting in the dismissal of the case.
This order was entered because of discovery rule violations
by the State. The exclusion included the State's
witnesses that Defendant requested to interview, but had not
been given the opportunity to interview before the
district's scheduling deadline. Defendant's motion to
dismiss was granted once the State conceded it could not
proceed to trial without the excluded witness testimony. We
affirm the district court's order.
Defendant was charged with drug trafficking and possession of
drug paraphernalia. A scheduling order was entered on August
20, 2014, that set forth various deadlines, including witness
interviews to be conducted by October 24, 2014, and
substantive motions to be filed by November 7, 2014. The
prosecutor filed a "State's Addendum Witness &
Exhibit List" on August 27, 2014, listing eight law
enforcement officers and the names of three chemists. Of the
three chemists listed by the State, it was the chemist who
analyzed the drugs, Manuel Gomez (Gomez) who would be
testifying at trial. On the same day, the prosecutor sent an
email to defense counsel stating, "Please provide me
with dates and times that are convenient for you for witness
interviews." Defense counsel responded by providing
three dates of availability in September for interviews, and
stated, "Please let me know, immediately, when the
interviews are scheduled or if these dates don't
work." The prosecutor subsequently informed defense
counsel that "witness interviews" were scheduled
for September 23, 2014. Only two officers appeared for
interviews on that date. Defense counsel made another request
to schedule interviews for the remaining nine witnesses. The
interviews were scheduled for October 14, 2014, at which only
two more officers appeared.
Gomez did not show up on either September 23, 2014 or October
14, 2014. On October 16, 2014, defense counsel informed the
prosecutor that she was only available on October 21, 2014,
for the remaining interviews because she was going to be on
vacation after that date. The prosecutor informed defense
counsel that a telephonic interview with Gomez would be set
up for that date. On October 17, 2014, the prosecutor
discovered that Gomez would be out of town and would not be
available to be interviewed; however, he did not pass along
this information to defense counsel. The prosecutor never
sought an extension of the district court's interview
deadline. The State asserts that emails were sent to defense
counsel one day before the deadline on October 23, 2014, and
one week after the deadline had passed on October 30, 2014.
The prosecutor received no response from defense counsel to
On October 31, 2014, defense counsel filed a motion to
exclude witnesses from the State's list who were not made
available to be interviewed before the district court's
October 24, 2014 deadline. Defense counsel stated that
Defendant was prejudiced due to an inability to conduct
witness interviews and prepare substantive motions prior to a
court ordered deadline of November 7, 2014. The prosecutor
claimed that it made a good faith effort to comply with the
court deadlines, and any violation of the district
court's order was not intentional.
A hearing was held on December 2, 2014. At that hearing the
district court specifically asked the prosecutor why the
district attorney's office did not set up an interview
for Gomez with the first interviews scheduled for September
23, 2014. The prosecutor informed the court that a
chemist's interview is typically set up last, because the
interviews with law enforcement officers give the State a
sense of the sufficiency of its evidence, or the strengths
and weaknesses of the State's case, and whether there is
a possibility of reaching an agreement in a case. The
prosecutor also stated that, since the "trial [was] not
scheduled until April[2015 he] relaxed a little bit." It
was also revealed during the motion hearing that while three
chemists had been identified and because Defendant had not
received the drug analyst's report, defense counsel did
not know if one or all three chemists would actually be
testifying. The district court entered an order excluding
those witnesses that had not been interviewed and ultimately
dismissed the case. The State appeals. On appeal, the State
informs this Court that of the witnesses excluded under the
district court's order, only Gomez, the chemist, would
have been called to testify at trial.
It is within a trial court's discretion to impose
sanctions for violation of a discovery order when the
violation results in prejudice to the opposing party.
State v. Bartlett, 1990-NMCA-024, ¶ 4, 109 N.M.
679, 789 P.2d 627. To determine whether imposition of the
sanction of excluding witnesses was proper in this case, we
must look at: (1) the culpability of the State, (2) the
prejudice to Defendant, and (3) the availability of lesser
sanctions. See State v. Le Mier, 2017-NMSC-017,
¶ 15, 394 P.3d 959 (citing to State v. Harper,
2011-NMSC-044, ¶ 15, 150 N.M. 745, 266 P.3d 25). Our
Supreme Court clarifying Harper proclaimed that
these applicable standards are not "so rigorous"
that a trial court may only impose sanctions for discovery
violations that are "egregious, blatant, and an affront
to their authority." Le Mier, 2017-NMSC-017,
¶ 16. Rather, in order to promote efficiency, manage its
docket, and ensure that judicial resources are not wasted, a
court may impose "meaningful sanctions where discovery
orders are not obeyed and a party's conduct injects
needless delay into the proceedings." Id.
¶¶ 16, 19. Our Supreme Court further articulated
that "our courts are encouraged to ensure the timely
adjudication of cases, to proactively manage their dockets,
and to utilize appropriate sanctions to vindicate the
public's interest in the swift administration of
justice." Id. ¶ 29.
The district court has broad discretionary power to impose
sanctions for discovery violations, and there is no abuse of
that discretion unless the court's ruling is
"clearly against the logic and effect of the . . .
circumstances of the case[, ]" and not justified by
reason. Id. ¶ 22. "In reviewing the
district court's decision, [appellate courts] view the
evidence . . . and all inferences . . . in the light most
favorable to the district court's decision."
Id. We now turn to the considerations set out in
Harper and quantified by Le Mier.