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State v. Martinez

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

June 13, 2019

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
PATRICK MARTINEZ, Defendant-Appellant.


          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Santa Fe, NM Margaret Crabb, Assistant Attorney General Albuquerque, NM for Appellee

          Patrick J. Martinez Albuquerque, NM Pro Se Appellant



         {¶1} Defendant appeals his conviction for speeding, contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 66-7-301 (2002, amended 2015) after a de novo trial in district court. We affirm.


         {¶2} Defendant was stopped and cited for speeding by an officer with the Isleta Police Department. Following his trial and conviction in magistrate court for speeding, Defendant filed a de novo appeal in the district court. After a half-day bench trial, the district court found Defendant guilty of speeding for driving 55 miles per hour in a posted 45 mile-per-hour speed zone. On appeal to this Court, Defendant argues that the speed regulation statutes, Section 66-7-301 and NMSA 1978, § 66-7-303 (1996), are ambiguous and should be construed to allow motorists to accelerate in advance of an increased speed limit sign once the sign is visible.


         {¶3} We consider an issue of first impression in New Mexico, at what point in relation to a speed limit sign does a speed limit become effective such that a driver can be cited for a violation of Section 66-7-301. This is a question of statutory interpretation that we review de novo. See State v. Tarin, 2014-NMCA-080, ¶ 6, 331 P.3d 925.

In construing a statute, we must ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature. To accomplish this, we apply the plain meaning of the statute unless the language is doubtful, ambiguous, or an adherence to the literal use of the words would lead to injustice, absurdity or contradiction, in which case the statute is to be construed according to its obvious spirit or reason. . . . While the consideration of public policy is the province of the Legislature, where a statute is ambiguous, we may consider the policy implications of varying constructions of the statute.

State v. Tafoya, 2010-NMSC-019, ¶ 10, 148 N.M. 391, 237 P.3d 693 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         {¶4} We begin by looking at the plain meaning of the speed limit statutes, Sections 66-7-301 and -303. Section 66-7-301(A) sets forth default speed limits for certain types of roads and conditions, but also states in Subsection (C) that t hes e s p e ed li mi ts may be altered as authorized in Section 66-7-303(B). Section 66-7-303(B) states in relevant part "that [an altered] speed limit shall be authorized and effective when appropriate signs giving notice thereof are erected at that particular part of the highway[.]" Thus, the plain language of Section 66-7-303(B) indicates that a speed limit is effective at the point where the sign is located. {5} This interpretation is supported by several provisions found in the New Mexico Department of Transportation's 2008 Signing and Striping Manual, [1] (the NMDOT Manual), a document issued in compliance with the Legislature's mandate that the state transportation commission "adopt a manual and specifications for a uniform system of traffic-control devices consistent with the provisions of [the Motor Vehicle Code]." NMSA 1978, § 66-7-101 (2003). The NMDOT Manual recognizes that "[u]niformity of the meaning and application of traffic control devices is vital to their effectiveness." NMDOT Manual, ch. 1, § 1.1.3. Further, in a section addressing signage and captioned, "Standardization of Location," it states:

The longitudinal displacement between a sign and the corresponding roadway element varies from zero in the case of a speed limit sign (or most regulatory signs) that is physically placed at the point where the speed limit (or regulation) begins or ends, to 1 mile or more in the case of an advance guide sign.

NMDOT Manual, ch. 2, § 2.1.16, at 2.1-20 (2008) (emphasis added); see also NMDOT Manual, ch. 2, ยง 2.2.2, at 2.2-6 (2008) (providing that a speed limit sign be installed "[t]o show the beginning of a new speed limit . . . at the physical location where the speed limit changes"); NMDOT Manual, ch. 2, Exhibit 2.2-C, at 2.2-7 (2008) (indicating, in a table headed "Suggested Spacing for Speed Limit Signs[, ]" that for every type of road listed, the "normal placement" for speed limit signs is "at the beginning of the speed limit"). Moreover, our State Transportation Commission, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the Federal Highway ...

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