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State v. Baca

Supreme Court of New Mexico

July 18, 2019

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
MANUEL BACA, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF SOCORRO COUNTY Matthew G. Reynolds, District Judge

          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender Steven James Forsberg, Assistant Appellate Defender Albuquerque, NM for Appellant

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Lauren Joseph Wolongevicz, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellee



         {¶1} The State charged Defendant Manuel Baca with an open count of murder by criminal complaint. The district court found by clear and convincing evidence that Defendant committed first-degree murder and determined that he was dangerous and not competent to stand trial. The district court ordered Defendant detained by the New Mexico Department of Health (Department) pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 31-9-1.5(D) (1999). Defendant appeals that order, contesting the sufficiency of the evidence. Although Defendant has not been convicted of first-degree murder, Defendant nonetheless faces lifetime detention by the State. We therefore determine that jurisdiction properly lies in this Court, and we affirm the district court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         {¶2} Defendant's father Fidel Baca Sr. (Fidel) played guitar at a local funeral near Socorro during the day on January 6, 2016, and on his way home, Fidel stopped by the home of Fidel Baca Jr. (Junior) to retrieve groceries that Junior had picked up for him. Fidel did not stay long. He said that he was tired and wanted to rest but that he might come by later to have a beer and visit if he felt better. Fidel did not return to Junior's home.

         {¶3} Later that evening Defendant showed up at Junior's home. Defendant was "aggravated and mad, agitated" and asked, "Have you seen him?" Junior assumed Defendant meant Fidel. When Junior reached out to pet Fidel's dog, which Defendant had tucked in his sweatshirt, Defendant knocked Junior's hand away and said, "Don't touch the fucking dog." Defendant also asked for keys to Fidel's home. Junior told Defendant to leave and to not come around when he was high, and Junior did not give Defendant the keys. Defendant left and walked down the road to Fidel's mobile home. Junior tried to call Fidel to warn him that Defendant "was acting crazy again" but never got a response. Since Defendant did not have a key, he picked the front lock to get into Fidel's mobile home. A neighbor said he thought about going over to check on Fidel when he noticed in the middle of the night that a light was on in Fidel's living room, which was unusual, but he did not check on Fidel.

         {¶4} The next morning officers from the Socorro Police Department responded to an "unknown medical" call from Fidel's home. A neighbor directed officers to Fidel's mobile home at the end of the road, where Defendant sometimes lived with his father. Defendant answered the door to the mobile home and told the officers, "He's over there." Officers discovered Fidel lying face up on the floor with an almost-four-foot-long, twenty-pound pickaxe stuck in his chest.

         {¶5} The State charged Defendant with an open count of murder by criminal complaint. Before the scheduled preliminary examination the prosecutor raised the issue of Defendant's competency, and the magistrate court transferred the case to the district court. See NMSA 1978, § 31-9-1 (1993). The district court entered a stipulated order to commit Defendant to the Department for up to nine months of treatment to attain competency to stand trial.

         {¶6} Following the treatment period and a subsequent hearing on the merits, the district court ordered Defendant to be detained by the Department for life and, as required by statute, ordered an evaluation at least every two years to determine "trial competency and dangerousness." See § 31-9-1.5(D)(2), (4) (providing for such criminal commitment up to the "maximum sentence to which the defendant would have been subject had the defendant been convicted in a criminal proceeding" and for review hearings "at least every two years" where "the court shall enter findings on the issues of trial competency and dangerousness"); see also NMSA 1978, § 30-2-1(A) (1994) (providing that a "willful, deliberate and premeditated killing" is "a capital felony"); NMSA 1978, § 31-18-14 (2009) ("When a defendant has been convicted of a capital felony, the defendant shall be sentenced to life imprisonment or life imprisonment without possibility of release or parole."). Defendant appeals from the order of commitment.


         A. The Appeal of a Lifetime Criminal Commitment Pursuant to Section 31-9-1.5 (Section 1.5) Properly Lies with This Court

         {¶7} In their original filings, neither party addressed jurisdiction. This is understandable given that this Court in State v. Adonis, 2008-NMSC-059, ¶¶ 5, 7, 145 N.M. 102, 194 P.3d 717, accepted a transfer from the Court of Appeals of the appeal of a Section 1.5 hearing where the district court had ordered the defendant committed for life. While this Court's acceptance of the transfer determined our jurisdiction in Adonis, it did not clarify where jurisdiction properly lies in subsequent cases. Our acceptance of the transfer in Adonis constituted a final determination of jurisdiction only for that appeal. See NMSA 1978, ยง 34-5-10 (1966) ("Any transfer under this section is a final determination of jurisdiction. Whenever either court determines it has jurisdiction in a case filed in that court and proceeds to decide the matter, that determination of jurisdiction is final."). Because we have not clearly addressed the jurisdiction question, we ...

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