New Mexico v. Ferry

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Justia Opinion Summary

The State filed a Motion for Pretrial Detention in this case involving a charge of first-degree murder, which was denied by the district court judge after an evidentiary hearing. The State appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court, contending that the district court judge, relying on New Mexico v. Brown, 338 P.3d 1276, “apparently determined that the charges themselves—no matter how serious the crime and how dangerous a manner in which it is committed—are never sufficient to detain.” The State also contended the district court judge abused his discretion and asked the Supreme Court to clarify that a district court judge “should neither disregard the nature or circumstances of the crime nor consider the charges to the exclusion of all other factors.” The prosecuting authority did not offer any reasons why the conditions of release were inadequate to reasonably provide for the safety of a person or the community. But because of the ambiguity in the trial court’s written Order, the Supreme Court remanded to the district court judge to clarify the Order.

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1 IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO 2 Filing Date: December 28, 2017 3 STATE OF NEW MEXICO 4 Plaintiff-Appellant, 5 v. NO. S-1-SC-36786 6 MARIAH FERRY, 7 Defendant-Appellee. 8 APPEAL OF DISTRICT COURT ORDER 9 Reed S. Sheppard, District Judge 10 Raúl Torrez, District Attorney 11 James W. Grayson, Assistant District Attorney 12 Albuquerque, NM 13 for Appellant 14 Clark, Jones & Pennington, LLC 15 Thomas M. Clark 16 Santa Fe, NM, NM 17 for Appellee 1 OPINION 2 CHÁVEZ, Justice. 3 {1} The State filed a Motion for Pretrial Detention in this case involving a charge 4 of first-degree murder, which was denied by the district court judge after an 5 evidentiary hearing. The State appealed to this Court pursuant to Rule 12-204(C) 6 NMRA and consistent with State v. Smallwood, 2007-NMSC-005, ¶ 11, 141 N.M. 7 178, 152 P.3d 821 (holding that “the legislature intended for [the Supreme Court] to 8 have jurisdiction over interlocutory appeals in situations where a defendant may 9 possibly be sentenced to life imprisonment or death”). On page 3 of its Motion, the 10 State contends that the district court judge, relying on State v. Brown, 11 2014-NMSC-038, 338 P.3d 1276, “apparently determined that the charges 12 themselves—no matter how serious the crime and how dangerous a manner in which 13 it is committed—are never sufficient to detain.” The State also contends that the 14 district court judge abused his discretion and asks us to clarify that a district court 15 judge “should neither disregard the nature or circumstances of the crime nor consider 16 the charges to the exclusion of all other factors.” 17 {2} Discretion is the authority of a district court judge to select among multiple 18 correct outcomes. Appellate courts analyze a district court judge’s discretionary 19 decisions by first, without deferring to the district court judge, deciding whether 1 proper legal principles were correctly applied. If proper legal principles correctly 2 applied only lead to one correct outcome there is no discretion for the district court 3 judge to exercise. If the district court judge arrives at the only correct outcome, the 4 district court judge is affirmed; otherwise the district court judge is reversed. If 5 proper legal principles correctly applied may lead to multiple correct outcomes, 6 deference is given to the district court judge because if reasonable minds can differ 7 regarding the outcome, the district court judge should be affirmed. In this case the 8 dominating issue is whether the district court judge correctly applied proper legal 9 principles. 10 {3} Article II, Section 13 provides that “[b]ail may be denied by a court of record 11 pending trial for a defendant charged with a felony if the prosecuting authority . . . 12 proves by clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably 13 protect the safety of any other person or the community.” We previously announced 14 that the prosecuting authority—and defense counsel—may offer evidence in many 15 different forms during a detention hearing. The litigants may introduce live testimony 16 and proffer documentary evidence in a form that carries sufficient indicia of 17 reliability, and the Rules of Evidence do not apply. See Transcript of Bench Ruling 2 1 by New Mexico Supreme Court in Torrez v. Whitaker, No. S-1-SC-36379, at 9.1 The 2 prosecuting authority has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that 3 (1) the defendant poses a future threat to others or the community, and (2) no 4 conditions of release will reasonably protect the safety of another person or the 5 community. See id. 6 {4} In this case Detective Jodi Gonterman testified concerning her investigation of 7 two separate alleged crimes involving Defendant, Mariah Ferry. The State also 8 tendered, without objection, documentary exhibits which included the criminal 9 complaints in two cases filed against Ferry; a prior court order releasing Defendant 10 on specific supervisory conditions; and a letter from the mother of one of the victims. 11 In the first case Ferry is alleged to have participated in the kidnapping and beating of 12 a victim, and in the present case she is alleged to have participated in the kidnapping, 13 mutilation, and murder of another victim and to have tampered with evidence. The 14 details of the crimes in this case are adequately set forth in paragraphs 2 through 7 of 15 the Order Denying State of New Mexico’s Expedited Motion For Pretrial Detention. 18 1available at www.nmcourts.gov/Court-Decisions-on-Pretrial-Release-and-Detention19 Reform.aspx (last visited December 28, 2017) 3 1 The district court judge also specified in paragraph 13 of his Order2 that 2 3 4 5 6 7 [t]he State argues that no conditions of release can protect the community based on the nature of the charges. While the Court agrees the nature of the charges are disturbing, the New Mexico Supreme Court has explained that the court may not base a pretrial release decision entirely on a single factor—like the seriousness of the current charges—“to the exclusion of all other factors.” 8 (quoting State v. Brown, 2014-NMSC-038, ¶ 51, 338 P.3d 1276). 9 {5} We understand the State to interpret the district court judge’s ruling to mean 10 that the seriousness of the nature and circumstances of the underlying crime can never 11 in and of itself be sufficient to prove a defendant’s future dangerousness. We believe 12 this is one reasonable interpretation of paragraph 13. However, another reasonable 13 interpretation, as will be explained in paragraph 8, infra, is that the district court 14 judge did consider the seriousness of the underlying nature and circumstances of the 15 crime but was persuaded by other evidence that certain conditions of release could 16 reasonably protect the safety of others and the community. The fact that there are two 17 reasonable interpretations of the district court judge’s Order leads us to conclude that 18 a remand is necessary to allow the district court judge to clarify what he intended by 18 19 20 21 22 2 The judge’s written Order governs in these proceedings. See Rule 5-409(G) NMRA (requiring a written order). See also State v. Diaz, 1983-NMSC-090, ¶ 4, 100 N.M. 524, 673 P.2d 501 (“It is well established that an oral ruling by the trial court is not a final judgment, and that the trial court can change such ruling at any time before the entry of written judgment.”). 4 1 his written Order. 2 {6} We also conclude that it is necessary to make clear that the nature and 3 circumstances of a defendant’s conduct in the underlying charged offense(s) may be 4 sufficient, despite other evidence, to sustain the State’s burden of proving by clear 5 and convincing evidence that the defendant poses a threat to others or the community. 6 If the State meets this initial burden of proof the State must still prove by clear and 7 convincing evidence, under Article II, Section 13, that “no release conditions will 8 reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.” For example, 9 the State may introduce evidence of a defendant’s defiancé of restraining orders; 10 dangerous conduct in violation of a court order; intimidation tactics; threatening 11 behavior; stalking of witnesses, victims, or victims’ family members; or inability or 12 refusal to abide by conditions of release in other cases. The potential evidence of a 13 person’s dangerous inability or refusal to abide by the directives of an authority figure 14 are so variable that it is difficult to catalog all of the circumstances that might satisfy 15 the State’s burden of proof. 16 {7} We emphasize that the litigants and the court must not automatically consider 17 any one factor to be dispositive in pretrial detention hearings. For this reason district 18 court judges are required to file written findings of the individualized facts justifying 5 1 the detention of the defendant or the denial of the detention motion. Rule 5-409(H)2 (I). Of course the district court judge’s decision will be limited by what evidence the 3 litigants present. 4 {8} In this case the district court judge verbally announced that he had considered 5 all of the factors he was required to consider, noting that the crimes charged are very 6 gruesome and heinous. The judge also stated that the gruesome nature of the crime 7 could not be the only factor to consider in rendering a detention decision. The judge 8 considered Defendant’s age and that she had previously been released with 9 supervision without any violations as evidenced by no one from pretrial services 10 stating otherwise. Finally the judge stated that he considered the Public Safety 11 Assessment provided to the court. Based on the information the judge considered, 12 he continued the previous conditions of release imposed on Defendant weeks earlier 13 by a different district court judge. The conditions included (1) no contact whatsoever 14 with the codefendants, the victims or their family members, presumably directly or 15 indirectly;3 (2) no possession or use of alcohol or prohibited substances; (3) no 16 possession of firearms, dangerous weapons, knives, or objects that can be considered 17 3 Whether Defendant was required to report to her supervising officer if her 18 codefendants contacted or attempted to contact her directly or through others is not 19 clear in the Order. 6 1 deadly weapons; and (4) the requirement that Defendant wear an ankle bracelet at all 2 times while released. At the request of the State, the district court judge announced 3 there would be zero tolerance for any violation of the conditions of release no matter 4 how small the violation. The prosecuting authority did not offer any reasons why the 5 conditions of release were inadequate to reasonably provide for the safety of a person 6 or the community. Had the district court judge been as clear in his written Order, as 7 he was in his oral ruling, the written Order before this court likely would not have 8 been subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. For this reason we 9 encourage judges to carefully reduce to writing all reliable information they have 10 considered when deciding to detain or not to detain a defendant. 11 {9} However, because of the ambiguity in the written Order we remand to the 12 district court judge to clarify his written Order. If the district court judge interpreted 13 State v. Brown as precluding the court from finding that reliable evidence of the 14 nature and circumstances of the crime can never, in and of itself, be sufficient for the 15 State to meet its burden of proving a defendant’s future dangerousness, the court 16 misinterpreted Brown. We also note that our Brown opinion was concerned with 17 money bail. The concern for the danger to the public does not justify setting money 18 bail at any amount because defendants do not forfeit money bail when they commit 7 1 new offenses. See Brown, 2014-NMSC-038, ¶ 21. But as we have explained, the 2 nature and circumstances of a defendant’s conduct in the underlying charged 3 offense(s) may be sufficient, despite other evidence, to sustain the State’s burden of 4 proving by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant poses a threat to others 5 or the community. If the court so finds, the court must also be persuaded by clear and 6 convincing evidence that there are no conditions of release that will reasonably 7 protect the safety of others or the community before the court may enter an order for 8 the pretrial detention of a defendant. 9 {10} IT IS SO ORDERED. 10 11 ___________________________________ EDWARD L. CHÁVEZ, Justice 12 WE CONCUR: 13 ___________________________________ 14 PETRA JIMENEZ MAES, Justice 15 ____________________________________ 16 CHARLES W. DANIELS, Justice 17 __________________________________ 18 BARBARA J. VIGIL, Justice 8 1 JUDITH K. NAKAMURA, Chief Justice, 2 not participating 9