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State v. Jacob F.

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

May 16, 2019

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JACOB F., Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF SANTA FE COUNTY T. Glenn Ellington, District Judge

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Santa Fe, NM Meryl E. Francolini, Assistant Attorney General Albuquerque, NM for Appellee

          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender Mary Barket, Assistant Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Appellant

          OPINION

          JULIE J. VARGAS, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Defendant was arrested for aggravated battery after allegedly attacking his mother with a pair of garden shears. He appeals the district court's determination that he is not mentally retarded, [1] arguing that it erred in its application of NMSA 1978, Section 31-9-1.6 (1999). Because we conclude that the district court improperly placed the burden to demonstrate mental retardation on Defendant despite evidence sufficient to give rise to a statutory presumption that Defendant was mentally retarded, we reverse the district court's Section 31-9-1.6(E) determination and remand the matter to the district court. In light of this determination, we need not and do not consider Defendant's remaining arguments.[2]

         BACKGROUND

         {¶2} Following his arrest, Defendant's competency was immediately designated as an issue in the case, and the district court deemed Defendant both incompetent to stand trial and dangerous. Defendant moved for a hearing pursuant to Section 31-9- 1.6 to determine whether he was mentally retarded and therefore subject only to civil commitment and not criminal prosecution. See § 31-9-1.6(D). Prior to the hearing, two IQ tests were administered to Defendant. Each of the doctors who separately administered the IQ tests testified that Defendant showed symptoms of psychosis during the testing process and each testified that Defendant scored below seventy on the IQ test he administered. Following the hearing, the district court issued an oral ruling, stating,

First, is whether the defense has established by a reliably administered test that [Defendant] has a full scale IQ of less than seventy. The Court concludes they have not.... The question is whether the information received from him taking the test is reliable. The court concludes that... the information is not reliable. So, the presumptive level of a seventy test score has not been shown by a preponderance of the evidence to create the legal presumption. That being the case, ... the State does not have to prove by a preponderance of evidence because the burden has not shifted as he is not . . . his intellectual disability and/or developmental delay in the modern vernacular, mental retardation as described under Section 31-9-1, that sequence has been met.

         Of particular concern to the district court in making its determination was the unknown level of psychosis Defendant experienced during the tests and how any such psychosis might have impacted Defendant's scores. In the order resulting from the hearing, the district court reached two conclusions: (1) Defendant failed to establish, "based on a reliably administered intelligence quotient test[, ]" that his IQ was at or below seventy, and (2) Defendant "failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that [he] was mentally retard[ed] as defined by [Section] 31-9-1.6(E)." Defendant appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         {¶3} Defendant argues on appeal that the district court erred when it concluded he was not mentally retarded pursuant to Section 31-9-1.6. Specifically, Defendant argues that the district court erroneously failed to shift the burden of proof to the State to rebut the presumption that Defendant is mentally retarded after two doctors testified that Defendant received a score below seventy on each of two IQ tests administered to him. We review the district court's determination that Defendant is not mentally retarded for an abuse of discretion. See Linares, 2017-NMSC-014, ¶¶ 23, 32. [3] "A district court abuses its discretion when it misapplies or misapprehends the law[, ]" State v. Pacheco, 2008-NMCA-131, ¶ 34, 145 N.M. 40, 193 P.3d 587, or when its ruling is "against logic and is clearly untenable or not justified by reason[, ]" Linares, 2017-NMSC-014, ¶ 24 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To the extent Defendant's appeal presents questions requiring statutory interpretation, those are questions of law that we review de novo. Id. ¶ 41.

         {¶4} "[M]ental retardation" is statutorily defined as "significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior." Section 31-9-1.6(E); see Gutierrez, 2015-NMCA-082, ¶ 44 (describing statutory definition as a "two-prong test"). An 1Q of seventy or below on a "reliably administered" IQ test "shall be presumptive evidence of mental retardation[, ]" and creates a statutory presumption that a defendant is mentally retarded. Section 31 -9-1.6(E); Gutierrez, 2015-NMCA-082, ¶ 44 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Once this presumption is established, "the burden shifts to the [s]tate to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a person does not have mental retardation." Gutierrez, 2015-NMCA-082, ¶ 44.

         {¶5} To claim entitlement to the statutory presumption of mental retardation, Defendant must show that he has an IQ of seventy or less and that the test used to determine that IQ was "reliably administered." The parties do not dispute that Defendant scored below seventy on the two IQ tests administered to him. The evidence presented at the hearing to determine whether Defendant is mentally retarded showed that Defendant underwent cognitive testing administered by two different doctors-Dr. Fields and Dr. Andrews. The testing revealed IQ scores of 67 and 68, respectively, scores which both doctors characterized as falling within the "extremely low range."

         {¶6} While the parties agree that Defendant scored below seventy on the IQ tests, they disagree as to whether the IQ tests were "reliably administered," as required by Section 31-9-1.6(E). The State, urging a broad interpretation of the statute, argues that the language of Section 31-9-1.6(E) requiring the IQ test to be "reliably administered" requires proof that the test results themselves are reliable in order to trigger the statutory presumption and that Defendant's psychosis prevented the doctors from obtaining accurate results when they administered their IQ tests to Defendant. According to the State, a strict construction of the statutory language- one limiting the relevant inquiry to the reliability of the administration of the IQ test without requiring accuracy in the result-would run counter to legislative intent and render the "reliably administered" test requirement "useless and superfluous." By contrast, Defendant contends that the Legislature's use of the term "reliably administered" IQ test unambiguously refers to the reliability of the test's ...


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