Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Aguilar

Supreme Court of New Mexico

October 7, 2019

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellant and Cross Appellee,
v.
LLOYD AGUILAR, Defendant-Appellee and Cross Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF BERNALILLO COUNTY Stanley Whitaker, District Judge.

          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender William A. O'Connell, Assistant Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Appellee and Cross Appellant

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General John Kloss, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellant and Cross Appellee

          OPINION

          C. SHANNON BACON, JUSTICE.

         {¶1} After deliberation in a murder trial, the jury submitted executed verdict forms to the presiding trial judge. Noticing an apparent conflict in the verdicts, the trial judge, without the knowledge or participation of the parties, returned the forms to the jurors and directed them to read the instructions again and clarify their verdicts. The jury subsequently returned revised verdict forms, which the trial judge accepted in open court with the participation of the parties before the jury was discharged. On the following day, the trial judge notified the parties of his previously undisclosed ex parte contact with the jury. After a post-trial hearing on this issue, the trial court ordered a new trial on all charges on which the jury had returned final verdicts of guilty.

         {¶2} Both the State of New Mexico and Defendant Lloyd Aguilar appealed the trial court's order. The State asserts that the trial court's grant of a new trial was in error and Defendant asserts that while the grant of a new trial was appropriate, the principles of double jeopardy bar retrial on the counts of murder and armed robbery. We hold that (1) the trial court's new trial order was not an abuse of discretion, and (2) retrial of the counts on which the jury ultimately returned guilty verdicts would not constitute double jeopardy.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         {¶3} Defendant was tried on an indictment charging a number of offenses related to a carjacking in which the victim was beaten and shot to death. Several of the charged offenses had complex alternative theories of culpability, which likely resulted in the jury confusion discussed herein.

         {¶4} After the State rested its case, the trial court directed verdicts of acquittal for insufficiency of evidence on the charge of willful and deliberate first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit willful and deliberate first-degree murder, and conspiracy to commit unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. The trial court denied Defendant's motions for acquittal on all remaining charges, including first-degree felony murder with a predicate offense of armed robbery, second-degree murder as a lesser-included offense of the first-degree willful and deliberate murder charge, conspiracy to commit first-degree felony murder, and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder.

         {¶5} On the remaining charges, the trial court gave the jury thirty-one separate instructions. These instructions were complex and potentially confusing. To illustrate this point, we provide below a detailed discussion of the instructions given to the jury. We highlight two particular aspects of the instructions that may have attributed to the jury's apparent confusion at deliberations. First, the jury was given two different elements instructions and verdict forms for second-degree murder: one for second-degree murder as an included offense of willful and deliberate first-degree murder, and another for second-degree murder as an included offense of first-degree felony murder (as an alternative to willful and deliberate first-degree murder). Second, the jury received a verdict form for "Felony Murder as charged in the alternative to Count 1" and a separate verdict form for "the alternative to Count 1." We discuss these two particularly confusing aspects of the jury instructions, along with the remainder of the instructions below.

         {¶6} The jury received separate elements instructions and corresponding guilty and not guilty verdict forms for

• second-degree murder of the victim "as charged in Count 1" (the count for which the trial court had directed a verdict of not guilty on the charge of willful and deliberate first-degree murder)
• first-degree felony murder of the victim "as charged in the alternative to Count 1," and
• second-degree murder of the victim "as an included offense of the alternative to Count 1," where the corresponding elements instruction tracked UJI 14-212(3) NMRA and told the jury it could find Defendant guilty only if it found the State proved "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Defendant killed the victim but "did not cause the death of [the victim] during the commission of armed robbery[, ]" among other essential elements of that crime.

         {¶7} After receiving those three homicide elements instructions, the jury received a stepdown instruction that referenced only "the crimes of Felony Murder and Second Degree Murder as charged in the Alternative to Count 1," without mentioning the earlier elements instruction for the crime of second-degree murder of the same victim "as charged in Count 1." This stepdown instruction told the jury that it should initially deliberate on first-degree felony murder and move to second-degree murder only if it did not reach a guilty verdict on felony murder. The instruction cautioned that the jury could "not find the defendant guilty of more than one of the foregoing crimes" without explaining whether the term "foregoing" referred to all homicide crimes on which the jury had received elements instructions or only the two homicide crimes identified in the stepdown instruction. None of the instructions clearly addressed any relationship between the two second-degree murder instructions relating to the same victim.

         {¶8} Although each elements instruction named the crime identified with the count number, a subsequent instruction describing verdict options for each count did little to avoid additional confusion:

In this case, there are two possible verdicts as to Count 1, Count 2, [and] the alternative to Count 2, Count 3, Count 4, Count 5, and Count 6:
(1) guilty; and
(2) not guilty.
Only one of the possible verdicts may be signed by you as to each charge. If you have agreed upon one verdict as to a particular charge, that form of verdict is the only form to be signed as to that charge. The other form as to that charge is to be left unsigned.
There are three possible verdicts to the alternative to Count 1 (Felony Murder). See [the stepdown] Instruction. . . .

         {¶9} Along with the thirty-one jury instructions, the jury received twenty-one separate verdict forms to deliberate on and execute.

         {¶10} After two partial days of deliberation, the jury submitted a package of verdict forms (the "preliminary verdict forms") to the trial judge. Without notifying counsel, the trial judge reviewed the preliminary verdict forms and noticed that the jury had signed both the guilty verdict form for "Felony Murder as charged in the alternative to Count 1" and the not guilty verdict form for "the alternative to Count 1," a form which did not specify the name of any particular crime. Because the finding of guilty for "Felony Murder as charged in the alternative to Count 1" negates the possibility of also finding Defendant not guilty of "the alternative to Count 1," these forms were necessarily in conflict. The trial judge walked the preliminary verdict forms back to the jury and said, as he recounted later,

I'm confused about your verdict. I don't know what the verdict is. . . . I think you need to read the instructions again to make sure that you are reading-that you understand them. And then we need to know what the verdict is with regard to the alternative to Count 1. Because I'm not sure what that is.

         The trial judge also stated later that this was the only ex parte off-the-record contact between him and the jury.

         {¶11} The jury revised the preliminary verdict forms and again submitted the package of forms to the trial court. In these revised verdict forms, the jury voided its preliminary verdict forms that facially indicated a verdict of not guilty "of the alternative to Count 1" and left intact its previous verdict form entry of guilty "of Felony Murder as charged in the alternative to Count 1." It also voided a previously signed not guilty verdict form for armed robbery and signed a guilty verdict form for that charge. The voided forms included strikethroughs of the foreperson's ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.