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State v. Chavez

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

July 17, 2018

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOSE CHAVEZ, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF LUNA COUNTY Jennifer E. DeLaney, District Judge

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

          Charles E. Knoblauch Albuquerque, NM for Appellant

          OPINION

          M. MONICA ZAMORA, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Defendant appeals his convictions for driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor (DWI), pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 66-8-102 (2016), and for following too closely, pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 66-7-318 (1978). Defendant raises a single issue on appeal-that Section 66-7-318 is unconstitutionally vague and therefore void. We issued a notice of proposed summary disposition proposing to affirm, in response to which Defendant filed a memorandum in opposition. After due consideration of Defendant's arguments we affirm Defendant's convictions for the reasons discussed below.

         BACKGROUND

         {¶2} New Mexico State Police Officer Bobbie Terrazas observed Defendant's vehicle following another vehicle and initiated a traffic stop. Officer Terrazas testified that she stopped the vehicle for following too closely based on a "highway standard" that for "every ten[-]miles[-per hour] you are going, it's a car length." According to Officer Terrazas, she observed no sky between the vehicles, leading her to believe that the distance between Defendant's vehicle and the vehicle he was following was less than a car length. As a result of the stop Officer Terrazas obtained evidence leading to Defendant's DWI conviction.

         {¶3} Defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained after the stop, claiming that Officer Terrazas lacked reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle. He indicates that at the suppression hearing he argued that the following-too-closely statute lacks specificity, making it difficult to enforce and providing no objective standard to which the public can conform its behavior. The motion was denied, Defendant was convicted of the traffic offenses, and he appealed to this Court.

         DISCUSSION

         {¶4} Defendant claims that Officer Terrazas had no reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle because the following-too-closely statute is unconstitutionally vague. Section 66-7-318 prohibits a driver of a motor vehicle from "follow[ing] another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway." According to Defendant the "reasonable and prudent" standard is constitutionally unenforceable for two reasons: first, it provides officers with too much discretion in deciding when the statute has been violated, and second, it provides insufficient guidance to the motoring public in determining how closely they may follow another vehicle without violating the statute.

         {¶5} When a defendant contends that a statute is unconstitutionally vague, we review the claim "in light of the facts of the case and the conduct which is prohibited by the statute." State v. Laguna, 1999-NMCA-152, ¶24, 128 N.M. 345, 992 P.2d 896 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). There is a "strong presumption of constitutionality[, ]" and a defendant "has the burden of proving [that] a statute is unconstitutional beyond all reasonable doubt." Id. A statute is unconstitutionally vague if:

(1) it fails to provide persons of ordinary intelligence using ordinary common sense a fair opportunity to determine whether their conduct is prohibited; or
(2) it fails to create minimum guidelines for the reasonable police officer, prosecutor, judge, or jury charged with enforcement of the statute, and thereby encourages ...

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