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State v. Ochoa

Supreme Court of New Mexico

October 23, 2017

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Petitioner,
v.
JOHN ERIC OCHOA, Defendant-Respondent.

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDING ON CERTIORARI Stephen Bridgforth, District Judge

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Sri Mullis, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Petitioner

          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender Nina Lalevic, Assistant Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Respondent

          OPINION

          BARBARA J. VIGIL, Justice.

         {1} The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article II, Section 14 of the New Mexico Constitution. Defendant was arrested on May 12, 2008, and charged with a number of offenses relating to criminal sexual contact of a minor. Prior to a mistrial on March 8, 2010, trial was delayed for a number of reasons including a furlough affecting the New Mexico Public Defender Department (Public Defender Department). Two months later, on May 17-20, 2010, Defendant was convicted of one count of interference with communications and two counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor. Defendant was incarcerated for the entire pretrial period.

         {2} Defendant appealed his convictions and the Court of Appeals reversed on speedy trial grounds. State v. Ochoa, 2014-NMCA-065, ¶¶ 1, 25-26, 327 P.3d 1102. The Court of Appeals determined that Defendant was prejudiced by his two-year pretrial incarceration, reasoning that "[t]his Court previously concluded that a delay of twenty-two months prejudiced a defendant. Here, Defendant was incarcerated even longer." Id. ¶ 23 (citation omitted).

         {3} We granted certiorari and reverse, applying the four-factor balancing test from Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972). We conclude that neither the length of delay, reason for delay, nor assertion of the right to a speedy trial weigh heavily in Defendant's favor. We presume that Defendant suffered some prejudice as a result of his continuous pretrial incarceration, but our presumption does not outweigh the other three factors. See State v. Garza, 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 1, 212 P.3d 387 (holding that a defendant must generally show particularized prejudice). Thus, despite the obvious prejudice to Defendant, his right to a speedy trial was not violated.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Right to a Speedy Trial

         {4} In examining whether a defendant has been deprived of his constitutional right to a speedy trial, we use the four-factor test set forth in Barker, balancing the length of delay, the reason for delay, the defendant's assertion of the right to a speedy trial, and the prejudice to the defendant. See 407 U.S. at 530. We defer to the district court's factual findings in considering a speedy trial claim, but weigh each factor de novo. State v. Spearman, 2012-NMSC-023, ¶ 19, 283 P.3d 272.

         {5} The speedy trial analysis is not a rigid or mechanical exercise, but rather "a difficult and sensitive balancing process." See Barker, 407 U.S. at 533. The speedy trial right is "amorphous, slippery, and necessarily relative." Vermont v. Brillon, 556 U.S. 81, 89 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). We consider the factors on a case-by-case basis. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 533; see also Garza, 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 13 (stating that Barker "necessarily compels courts to approach speedy trial cases on an ad hoc basis").

         B. Timeline

         {6} We begin by setting forth the facts and circumstances surrounding the delays in bringing Defendant to trial and the role of each party in the delays. Barker, 407 U.S. at 530 ("The approach we accept is a balancing test, in which the conduct of both the prosecution and the defendant are weighed."). Defendant was arrested on May 12, 2008 and tried just over two years later, on May 17-20, 2010. Defendant was incarcerated for this entire period.

         {7} Trial was reset on multiple occasions. The first, November 10, 2008, was vacated because November 11, 2008 was a holiday and the trial required a multi-day setting. The second, December 17, 2008, was vacated when Defendant requested a continuance to review evidence acquired in delayed witness interviews. The third, March 4, 2009, was vacated due to a pending motion.[1] The fourth, May 26, 2009, was vacated because it was incorrectly set for one day. The fifth, October 27, 2009, was unexpectedly continued when the judge's sister passed away.

         {8} Defendant moved to continue the sixth trial setting, January 13, 2010, because Governor Richardson ordered state employees to cease work for five days, including the third day of trial. The furlough reduced the budget of the Public Defender Department due to a budget shortfall for fiscal year 2010. Despite the furlough, this Court ordered public defenders to appear for regularly scheduled court appearances. The district court granted the continuance to ensure that defense counsel had adequate support staff to prepare a defense. Trial finally began on the seventh setting, March 8, 2010. However, the district court granted a mistrial because a juror made an inflammatory comment.

         {9} Over the course of the proceedings, the State filed three petitions to extend the time to commence trial. See Rule 5-604(B) NMRA (2008) ("For good cause shown, the time for commencement of trial may be extended by the district court . . . [by] six (6) months."). Defendant opposed two out of three of the State's petitions, but did not file substantive responses to any of them. Each of the petitions was granted.

         {10} Defendant filed five demands for a speedy trial and four motions to dismiss based on violation of the right.[2] In its ruling on the first motion to dismiss, the district court found the case to be complex and that the length of pretrial delay was less than the eighteen months required to trigger the speedy trial analysis under Garza. See 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 2 (establishing the guideline as eighteen months for complex cases). In each motion to dismiss, Defendant stated that the length of pretrial incarceration was presumptively prejudicial, he had suffered undue anxiety and concern, and his defense was impaired by fading witness memories. Defendant did not present evidence to support his prejudice claims, but instead asserted that the State bore the burden of proving the absence of prejudice, citing Salandre v. State, 1991-NMSC-016, ¶¶ 25-28, 111 N.M. 422, 806 P.2d 562, holding modified by Garza, 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 22.

         {11} Defendant was finally tried on May 17-20, 2010, after two years of pretrial incarceration. On May 20, 2010, a jury convicted Defendant of two counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor and one count of interference with communications. Defendant appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Defendant's right to a speedy trial was violated. Ochoa, 2014-NMCA-065, ¶ 1. We granted certiorari on two issues:

1)Whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that [the State denied Defendant] his constitutional right to a speedy trial when the length and reasons for the delay did not weigh heavily against [the State].
2)Whether the Court of Appeals erred in creating a bright-line rule that pre-trial incarceration over twenty-two months is unduly prejudicial even when [Defendant] failed to make a particularized showing of prejudice.

         Applying the fluid, ad hoc approach of Barker to the facts of the instant case, we agree with the Court of Appeals that Defendant was prejudiced by his pretrial incarceration. However, neither the length nor reason for delay weighs heavily against the State. Therefore, we conclude that Defendant's right to a speedy trial was not violated.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Length of Delay

         {12} The first factor, length of delay, is both the threshold question in the speedy trial analysis and a factor to be weighed with the other three Barker factors. State v. Serros, 2016-NMSC-008, ¶ 22, 366 P.3d 1121. The Barker Court deferred to the states to prescribe reasonable guidelines for bringing a case to trial. 407 U.S. at 523. This Court prescribed such guidelines in Garza. See 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 2. The applicable guideline is dependent upon the complexity of the case: twelve months for a simple case, fifteen months for an intermediate case, and eighteen months for a complex case. Id.

         {13} Consistent with Barker, this Court in Garza emphasized that the guidelines are not bright-line tests. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 523 ("We find no constitutional basis for holding that the speedy trial right can be quantified into a specified number of days or months."); see also Garza, 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 49 (explaining that the guidelines are not bright-line tests). The guidelines are designed to prompt the district court to conduct a speedy trial analysis, and do not dispose of the claim itself. Id. ¶ 2. As explained in Garza, it would be contrary to the flexible, fact-specific nature of the Barker approach to presume that there was a violation of the right based on the length of delay alone. See Garza, 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 13. The Barker Court "specifically reject[ed] inflexible, bright-line approaches to analyzing a speedy trial claim." Garza, 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 13 (citing Barker, 407 U.S. at 529-30).

         {14} When the length of delay exceeds a guideline, it must be weighed as one factor in determining whether there has been a violation of the right to a speedy trial, Serros, 2016-NMSC-008, ¶ 22, and the burden of persuasion rests on the State to demonstrate that, on balance, there was no violation of the right to a speedy trial. Garza, 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 22. As the delay lengthens, it weighs increasingly in favor of the accused. Id. ¶ 24. In other words, a delay barely crossing the guideline "is of little help" to the defendant's claim, while a delay of extraordinary length weighs heavily in favor of the defendant. Serros, 2016-NMSC-008, ¶ 26.

         {15} We defer to the district court's finding of complexity, [3] which was supported by the number of charges and nature of the allegations. See State v. Manzanares, 1996-NMSC-028, ¶ 9, 121 N.M. 798, 918 P.2d 714; see also State v. Rojo, 1999-NMSC-001, ¶ 52, 126 N.M. 438, 971 P.2d 829 (explaining that the complexity of the case is best determined by the district court, which must consider both the nature and complexity of the crime). This was a complex case which, under Garza, should have been brought to trial within eighteen months. See 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 2.

         {16} Defendant was arrested on May 12, 2008. Twenty-two months later, the first trial resulted in a mistrial. This period alone was sufficient to raise speedy trial concerns, unlike cases in which the mistrial occurred within the speedy trial guideline. See, e.g., State v. Castro, 2017-NMSC-027, ¶ 20, P.3d (noting that the mistrial occurred within the prescribed period for a simple case). By the time of the retrial on May 17-20, 2010, the case had been pending for a total of two years; six months past the Garza deadline. See 2009-NMSC-038, ¶ 48.

         {17} Nevertheless, while sufficient to trigger the speedy trial analysis, the two-year delay was not extraordinary. See, e.g., Serros, 2016-NMSC-008, ¶ 24 (holding that a delay of four years and three months was extraordinary and weighed heavily in the defendant's favor); see also Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647 (1992), 657-58 (describing an eight and one-half year delay between the defendant's indictment and arrest as extraordinary). Thus, the length of delay weighs only slightly against the State.

         B.Reason for ...


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