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State v. Franklin

Supreme Court of New Mexico

February 15, 2018

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
COREY FRANKLIN, Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL 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

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Jane A. Bernstein, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellee

          OPINION

          BARBARA J. VIGIL, JUSTICE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         {¶1} 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.[1] We conclude that this distinction does not violate equal protection, as first-degree murderers and lesser offenders are not similarly situated.

         II. BACKGROUND

         {¶2} 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 prison.

         {¶3} 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.

         {¶4} 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."

         {¶5} 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."

         {¶6} 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.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A.Standard of ...


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