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State v. Cazares

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

August 22, 2017

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
PEDRO CAZARES, a/k/a PEDRO LUIS CASARES, Defendant-Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF BERNALILLO COUNTY Judith K. Nakamura, District Judge

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

          Robert E. Tangora, L.L.C. Robert E. Tangora Santa Fe, NM for Appellee.

          OPINION

          M. MONICA ZAMORA, JUDGE

         {1} 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.

         BACKGROUND

         {2} 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.

         {3} 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 his emails.

         {4} 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.

         {5} 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.

         DISCUSSION

         {6} 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.

         {7} 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.

         Culpability ...


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