FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF DOÑA ANA COUNTY Fernando R.
Macias, District Judge
Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender B. Douglas Wood III,
Assistant Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Appellant
H. Balderas, Attorney General Jane A. Bernstein, Assistant
Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellee
BARBARA J. VIGIL, JUSTICE.
The New Mexico Constitution ensures that "[n]o person
shall be . . . denied equal protection of the laws."
N.M. Const. art. II, § 18. The sole issue in this case
is whether equal protection mandates that an offender who is
guilty of first-degree murder be afforded the same
opportunity to present evidence of mitigating circumstances
at sentencing as an offender convicted of a categorically
less serious offense. We conclude that this distinction does not
violate equal protection, as first-degree murderers and
lesser offenders are not similarly situated.
Defendant Corey Franklin pled guilty to one count of
first-degree, willful and deliberate murder, the only offense
currently designated as a "capital felony, " in
exchange for life in prison with a possibility of parole.
See § 30-2-1(A). Due to his first-degree murder
conviction, Defendant was subject to sentencing pursuant to
Section 31-18-14. See § 30-2-1(A). Defendant
was sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of a
five-year period of parole after serving thirty years in
Prior to sentencing, Defendant filed a motion seeking the
opportunity to present mitigating evidence which could
eventually shorten his sentence. While Defendant acknowledged
that Section 31-18-14 does not expressly provide an
opportunity to present mitigating evidence at the time of
sentencing to those convicted of first-degree murder, he
argued that this violates his due process rights under
Article II, Section 18 of the New Mexico Constitution and his
right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under
Article II, Section 13 of the New Mexico Constitution.
In his motion, Defendant noted that persons convicted of a
lesser offense are provided with an opportunity to present
mitigating circumstances at sentencing, which places them in
a stronger position for parole than first-degree murderers.
NMSA 1978, § 31-18-15.1(A)(1) (2009); see,
e.g., State v. Juan, 2010-NMSC-041,
¶¶ 35-39, 148 N.M. 747, 242 P.3d 314 (holding that
the defendant, a noncapital offender, was permitted to
present mitigating evidence under Section 31-18-15.1).
Defendant contended that the lack of opportunity to present
mitigating evidence "effectively diminishe[d his] due
process rights with respect to the parole process."
Defendant also argued that his sentence was excessive and
violated his right to be free from cruel and unusual
punishment. Defendant urged the district court to declare
"Section 31-18-14 and the sentencing consequences
thereunder unconstitutional to the extent it does not allow
for mitigation of the sentence in violation of
[Defendant's] due process rights [and] right to be free
from cruel and unusual punishment."
The district court denied Defendant's motion to declare
Section 31-18-14 unconstitutional and concluded that it was
within the Legislature's authority to decline to provide
the opportunity to present evidence of mitigating
circumstances to the most serious offenders. On May 16, 2016,
the district court entered final judgment and sentenced
Defendant to life imprisonment with the possibility of a
five-year period of parole after he served thirty years in
prison. On appeal, Defendant abandons these particular
constitutional arguments, and instead challenges the
sentencing distinction on equal protection grounds. Defendant
advances this issue pursuant to State v. Franklin,
1967-NMSC-151, 78 N.M. 127, 428 P.2d 982 and State v.
Boyer, 1985-NMCA-029, 103 N.M. 655, 712 P.2d 1.
A.Standard of ...