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State v. Martinez

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

July 25, 2019

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

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TAOS COUNTY JEFF F. MCELROY, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Marko D. Hananel, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellee

          Law Offices of Adrianne R. Turner Adrianne R. Turner Albuquerque, NM for Appellant

          OPINION

          JULIE J. VARGAS, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Pursuant to a conditional plea agreement, Defendant Liborio Martinez appeals the district court's denial of his motion to suppress certain evidence discovered after he was stopped for speeding. On appeal, Defendant argues that police engaged in an illegal search of his vehicle when Officer Anthony Perez: (1) opened the door of Defendant's vehicle; and (2) broke "the plane of the car" and entered the vehicle, transforming the traffic stop into a search that required a warrant. We conclude that, under the circumstances of this case, the district court erred in concluding that Officer Perez's actions of opening Defendant's door was not a search that required a warrant. We therefore reverse.

         BACKGROUND

         {¶2} Defendant's conviction stems from a traffic stop initiated by Officer Perez. After observing Defendant driving ten miles per hour over the speed limit, Officer Perez made a U-turn, pulled behind Defendant's vehicle, and activated his emergency lights. Defendant failed to pull over for a "couple miles" over the course of approximately two minutes, prompting Officer Perez to call for assistance. During this time, Defendant did not noticeably increase his speed or take any action to indicate he sought to flee from Officer Perez. Instead, Defendant appeared to maintain his speed and only increased or decreased his speed according to the flow of traffic in front of his car.

         {¶3} After Defendant pulled over, Officer Perez exited his vehicle and walked toward the rear passenger's side of Defendant's car. Officer Perez testified that as he approached Defendant's vehicle, he was unable to see whether anyone was in the back because although it was daylight, the rear window was "dark." Officer Perez approached the front passenger's side window and was able to see through that window. The window was not rolled all the way down and he testified that he had a "narrow" point of view. Through that window, however, he could see Defendant holding a cell phone in one hand and trying to light a cigar or a cigarette with the other.

         {¶4} As he approached Defendant's passenger's side window, Officer Perez lowered his head to look inside Defendant's vehicle and initiated the following exchange:

Perez: How are we doing, sir?
Defendant: Good. You?
Perez: Officer Perez with State Police.
Defendant: Hey, how's it going?

         Approximately four seconds elapsed from the time Officer Perez lowered his head to look inside the vehicle and the verbal exchange described above was completed. Three seconds into the exchange, as Defendant said "Hey," but before he asked "how's it going," Officer Perez opened the front passenger's side door of Defendant's vehicle. Officer Perez testified that he opened Defendant's door so as to speak with Defendant and prevent him from possibly fleeing. Officer Perez testified that he was unsure why Defendant ...


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