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State v. Quintin C

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

August 8, 2019

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
QUINTIN C., Child-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF LINCOLN COUNTY Daniel A. Bryant, District Judge.

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Benjamin L. Lammons, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellee

          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender Nina Lalevic, Assistant Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Appellant

          OPINION

          MEGAN P. DUFFY, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Child appeals his conviction for violating NMSA 1978, Section 30-20-13(D) (1981), which criminalizes willful interference with the educational process by threatening to commit any act that would disrupt the lawful mission, processes, procedures or functions of the school, arguing that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction and that the statute, as applied to his speech in this case, violated his First Amendment rights. Because the record demonstrates that the mens rea element of this offense was evaluated under an incorrect general intent standard, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

         BACKGROUND

         {¶2} Child, age fourteen, and J.E., age eleven, were students at Capitan Middle School and High School. The school followed a four-day school week, and during the school bus ride home for the weekend on a Thursday afternoon, J.E. sat across the aisle from Child. J.E. saw that Child had a camera and asked Child to take his picture; Child did so. J.E. asked Child why he brought his camera to school, and Child responded, "I'm making a kill list."

         {¶3} J.E. was bothered by the statement and moved to a different seat. The next morning, he told his mother what had happened, and when school reconvened the following Monday morning, J.E. arrived at 7:15 a.m. and told the school principal, Patti Nesbitt, what Child had said on the bus. Ms. Nesbitt informed the school counselor, Theresa Kennedy, and the two of them spoke with Child that morning. Ms. Nesbitt informed Child that school officials had received a report about his "hit list"; Child corrected her and said that it was a "kill list."

         {¶4} Child did not bring a weapon to school on Monday and when Ms. Nesbitt searched his camera, laptop, and Kindle, she discovered only four photos, all people Child stated were his friends. The photos did not include a photo of J.E. Ms. Nesbitt contacted Defendant's grandmother and Ms. Kennedy called the police. Ms. Nesbitt further testified that the police investigation took about four hours, which interfered with her normal duties.

         {¶5} On January 31, 2018, the State filed a petition alleging that Child was a delinquent child and asserted two counts against him-Count 1 for attempt to commit aggravated assault with intent to commit a violent felony, contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 30-3-3 (1977) ("Assault with intent to commit a violent felony consists of any person assaulting another with intent to kill or commit any murder[.]"), and Count 2 for violation of the school interference statute, contrary to Section 30-20-13(D). One day before trial, the State dismissed Count 1, concluding that it did not have sufficient evidence to prove that charge, and the parties proceeded with a bench trial on Count 2. The State called four witnesses: J.E., Ms. Nesbitt, Ms. Kennedy, and the police chief who participated in the investigation on the date of the incident. The defense called no witnesses. The district court found that Child had committed the delinquent act of violating Section 3 0-20-13(D) and sentenced him to two years' probation.

         DISCUSSION

         {¶6} Although Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction, his argument fundamentally challenges whether the evidence in this case constitutes the charged offense. See State v. Barragan, 2001-NMCA-086, ¶ 24, 131 N.M. 281, 34 P.3d 1157 ("Although framed as a challenge to the sufficiency of evidence, [the defendant's argument requires us to engage in statutory interpretation to determine whether the facts of this case, when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, are legally sufficient to sustain a conviction[.]"), overruled on other grounds by State v. Tollardo, 2012-NMSC-008, ¶ 37 n.6, 275 P.3d 110. The parties disagree on the standard required for conviction under Section 30-20-13(D), including what intent is required and whether the statute itself is unconstitutional as applied in this case because it criminally punishes speech. Thus, in order to evaluate the sufficiency of the evidence to support Child's conviction, we must first evaluate the statutory standard required to sustain a conviction. "Interpreting the relevant statute[] is a question of law, which we review de novo." State v. Herbstman, 1999- NMCA-014, ¶ 16, 126 N.M. 683, 974 P.2d 177. "After reviewing the statutory standard, we apply a substantial evidence standard to review the sufficiency of the evidence at trial." State v. Chavez, 2009-NMSC-035, ¶ 11, 146 N.M. 434, 211 P.3d 891.

         I. Section 30-20-13(D)

         {¶7} The Legislature enacted Section 30-20-13 in 1970, a time when states across the country were adopting similar statutory provisions in response to organized disturbances on college campuses. See In re Jason W.,837 A.2d 168, 172-73 (Md. 2003) ("The broadening and focused application of trespass, disorderly conduct, or school disturbance laws was then a national phenomenon."); id. at 173 ("The focus in 1970 ... was on riots and organized demonstrations and disturbances that actually impeded the schools from carrying out their administrative and educational functions."); see also Sheldon R. Shapiro, Annotation, Participation of Student in Demonstration on or Near Campus as Warranting Imposition of Criminal Liability for Breach of Peace, Disorderly Conduct, Trespass, Unlawful Assembly, or Similar Offense, 32 A.L.R. 3d 551 (1970). The statute originally focused on interference occurring in or at public buildings. See State v. Silva,1974-NMCA-072, ¶¶ 2-3, 86 N.M. 543, 525 P.2d 903 (addressing the constitutionality of a prior version of Section 30-20-13(C) ...


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