PROCEEDING ON CERTIORARI Karen L. Townsend, District Judge
H. Balderas, Attorney General Martha Anne Kelly, Assistant
Attorney General Kenneth H. Stalter, Assistant Attorney
General Steven H. Johnston, Assistant Attorney General Santa
Fe, NM for Petitioner
Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender C. David Henderson,
Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Respondent
BARBARA J. VIGIL, Justice
Our resolution of this appeal turns on the standard of review
that applies to a district court's findings of fact
concerning a motion to suppress evidence. Specifically, we
defer to the district court's findings if supported by
substantial evidence. See State v. Jason L.,
2000-NMSC-018, ¶ 10, 129 N.M. 119, 2 P.3d 856.
Bloomfield Police Sergeant George Rascon pulled over
Defendant Jennifer Martinez for failing to stop at a stop
sign and, as a result, the police obtained evidence that led
to Defendant's arrest and conviction for driving while
intoxicated. In a motion to suppress evidence, Defendant
argued that the video from the officer's onboard camera,
or "dash-cam, " demonstrated that Defendant made a
legal stop at the intersection and that the officer lacked
reasonable suspicion to pull her over. At an evidentiary
hearing, the officer testified that Defendant went past the
stop sign before coming to a complete stop, blocking the
intersection. The district court viewed the dash-cam video
and concluded that the officer had reasonable suspicion to
conduct the traffic stop, even though the video demonstrated
that the alleged traffic violation was not as blatant as
described by the officer.
The Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that the officer was
not credible and that the video evidence was too ambiguous to
support a finding of reasonable suspicion. State v.
Martinez, 2015-NMCA-051, ¶ 1, 348 P.3d 1022,
cert. granted, 2015-NMCERT-005. We hold that the
Court of Appeals misapplied the standard of review, which
requires the appellate court to defer to the district
court's findings of fact if supported by substantial
evidence and to view the facts in the light most favorable to
the prevailing party.
Defendant was charged in magistrate court with driving while
under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs (second
offense), see NMSA 1978, § 66-8-102 (2008,
amended 2016); consumption of an alcoholic beverage in a
motor vehicle, see NMSA 1978, § 66-8-138(A)
(2001, amended 2013); and failure to stop at a stop sign,
see NMSA 1978, § 66-7-345(C) (2003). Defendant
filed a motion to suppress evidence, arguing that the officer
lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop. The
magistrate court denied the motion to suppress. Defendant
entered a conditional guilty plea to driving while under the
influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, reserving her
right to appeal the suppression issue. See State v.
Celusniak, 2004-NMCA-070, ¶ 10, 135 N.M. 728, 93
P.3d 10 (recognizing that a defendant in magistrate court
"may enter a conditional plea of guilty or no contest,
reserving one or more issues for appeal").
Defendant appealed de novo to the district court and renewed
her motion to suppress. See N.M. Const. art. VI,
§ 27 (providing for de novo appeal to district court).
The State's evidence at the suppression hearing consisted
of Sergeant George Rascon's testimony and the dash-cam
video. The officer testified that on November 11, 2008, at
about 10:00 p.m., he was patrolling a residential
neighborhood in Bloomfield when he saw a vehicle approaching
the four-way intersection of Sycamore and North Third at a
"high rate of speed." The officer testified that
when Defendant reached the intersection, she went past the
stop sign before coming to a complete stop, blocking the
southbound lane of traffic. The officer activated his
emergency lights and pulled Defendant over for failing to
stop at the stop sign.
After hearing the officer's testimony and watching the
dash-cam video, the district court denied Defendant's
motion to suppress. The district court judge explained her
ruling as follows:
[A]fter hearing Sergeant Rascon's testimony I was
certainly confused as to why [Defendant] would file a motion
to suppress because he made it sound very clear why . . . he
stopped and that there was reasonable suspicion. But I think
it just goes to show you really need to review the video in
every case. And in this case, after reviewing the video, I
truly find the truth somewhere in between both positions. I
certainly didn't see Sergeant Rascon's testimony that
. . . she stopped in the middle of the intersection; I
don't think that was the case. However, I do think she .
. . seemed to be going quickly, she seemed to have slammed on
her brakes, and she seems to have slammed on her brakes
further into the intersection than I think is allowable,
creating the reasonable suspicion for Sergeant Rascon to . .
. stop [Defendant]. So therefore I will deny Defendant's
motion to suppress, although I will grant that it was
certainly a closer call than I thought it was going to be at
first. But I still think Sergeant Rascon did have reasonable
suspicion to stop her.
The Court of Appeals reversed. Martinez,
2015-NMCA-051. The Court of Appeals inferred from the
judge's remarks that "the district court found that
the officer was not credible." Id. ¶ 12.
The Court of Appeals concluded that "the district court
was left with no facts other than the video on which to
conclude that the stop was supported by a reasonable
suspicion." Id. The Court of Appeals then
conducted an independent review of the dash-cam video and
found that the video evidence was too ambiguous by itself to
support a finding of reasonable suspicion. Id.
¶¶ 13-14. We granted certiorari under Article VI,
Section 2 of the New Mexico Constitution and NMSA 1978,
Section 34-5-14(B) (1972), to consider whether the Court of
Appeals erred by failing to view the facts in the manner most
favorable to the prevailing party.