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State v. Groves

Supreme Court of New Mexico

January 11, 2018

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
ELEXUS GROVES, Defendant-Appellant.


          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender Scott Wisniewski, Assistant Public Defender Albuquerque, NM for Appellant

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Martha Anne Kelly, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellee



         {1} Defendant Elexus Groves has been indicted on two counts of first-degree murder and other serious felony offenses. In this interlocutory appeal she challenges a district court order of pretrial detention that was based on two independent and alternative detention grounds contained in Article II, Section 13 of the New Mexico Constitution.

         {2} The first ground was that Defendant was detainable under the provision that has been part of our Constitution since we became a state, providing an exception to the general right to pretrial release for defendants charged with capital offenses.

         {3} The second ground was based on the new detention authority added by New Mexico voters in the November 2016 general election, allowing denial of pretrial release of a felony defendant if the prosecuting authority requests a hearing and proves by clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.

         {4} We hold that the district court's detention order was lawfully based on the new constitutional authority for pretrial detention of dangerous defendants, and we affirm it on that ground. As a result, there is no need to address in this opinion the issues Defendant raises relating to the alternative ground for the district court's action based on the old capital-offense exception, a matter that we have addressed separately in State v. Ameer, S-1-SC-36395. See N.M. Sup. Ct. order (May 8, 2017).


         {5} Shortly after 6 a.m. on Friday, January 18, 2017, a man and a woman stole a van in Albuquerque. The two attempted to flee pursuing police officers, driving recklessly at extremely high speeds through residential city streets. Defendant, shown to be the apparent driver of the stolen van by physical evidence and her postarrest statements to police, crashed it into another car at an intersection, killing a teenage girl, fatally injuring the girl's mother, and breaking the leg of the girl's three-year-old brother. As logged by the van's GPS data, a moment before the crash the van was traveling at seventy-eight miles per hour in a thirty-five-mile-per-hour residential zone, and on impact it was traveling at sixty-eight miles per hour.

         {6} After the fatal crash, the offenders jumped out of the stolen van and continued their flight from the police. They ran through adjacent neighborhoods, climbing backyard fences and attempting to distract residents so they could steal another vehicle. After they succeeded in stealing another car, they escaped the pursuing officers but left behind a number of clues that resulted in Defendant's identification and her arrest two days later.

         {7} Among the clues, officers found a cell phone in the back yard of one witness who had called police to report that two unknown people had jumped over his fence. Investigation of that cell phone revealed a Facebook account belonging to coparticipant Paul Garcia and a call record showing contact between Garcia and Defendant.

         {8} Near the place where the second vehicle had been stolen, officers discovered a jacket containing a letter addressed to Defendant from an attorney offering to represent her in connection with her pending criminal charges.

         {9} Officers obtained security video footage from a business along the offenders' escape route that recorded two persons appearing to be Defendant and Garcia crossing a parking lot. In the video, the person identified as Garcia was walking with only one shoe, which appeared to match a shoe found at the wrecked van.

         {10} Following her arrest, Defendant initially appeared in metropolitan court, which set release conditions including the requirement that she post a $100, 000 secured bond. The State filed a motion in district court to deny Defendant's release pending trial under the new provisions of Article II, Section 13 of the New Mexico Constitution, arguing that no conditions of release a court could impose would protect the safety of others. The case was promptly transferred to the district court, which has exclusive pretrial detention ...

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