New Mexico Provides Greater Protection from Illegal Search & Seizure than Federal Law

The recent New Mexico Supreme Court case of State v. Joshua Garcia makes clear that Article II, Section 10 of New Mexico‘s Constitution extends greater protection from illegal search and seizure than that set forth in the 1991United States Supreme Court case of California v. Hodari D.

State v. Garcia involved a domestic violence call whereby the caller indicated that she wanted an individual named Joshua Garcia removed from her home.

Upon responding to the call, the officer saw a man walking across the street near the caller‘s address. The officer immediately flashed his spot light on the unidentified man and told the man to stop. The officer had no prior knowledge of the identification of the defendant.

Garcia continued walking past the patrol car and which point the officer again instructed him to stop. Garcia ignored the instructions of the officer and continued walking. The officer sprayed Garcia twice with pepper spray. As Garcia continued walking, the officer saw something fall from his pocket at which time the officer tackled and handcuffed Garcia.

The article that fell from Garcia‘s pocket was identified as crack cocaine.

Garcia was charged which possession of crack cocaine. The question that arose was whether the evidence of crack cocaine should be excluded from evidence as the fruit of an illegal search and seizure by the officer.

The District Court refused to suppress the evidence under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. Garcia pled guilty to the charges reserving his right to challenge the court‘s suppression ruling.

The Court followed the ruling set forth in the 1997 New Mexico Supreme Court case of State v. Gomez. State v. Gomez explicitly recognized that New Mexico‘s constitutional protections could at times exceed the protections afforded under federal law. Upon applying the law set forth in Gomez, the Court found in Garcia that New Mexico‘s Constitution, Article II, Section 10 provided greater protection than that set forth in Hodari D.

In Hodari D, officers drove up on a group of youths huddled together. Upon seeing the patrol unit, the youth took flight. The officers pursued the youth on foot. During the pursuit, one of the youth discarded a rock of crack cocaine. The officer tackled the youth and recovered the discarded crack.

The United States Supreme Court found that the youth was not seized at the time the crack was discarded. The Court determined that a seizure is defined by the reaction of the suspect. Because the suspect fled, there was no seizure despite the fact that the pursuit lacked any reasonable basis from its inception. Because there was no seizure, the evidence was not illegally seized.

The New Mexico Court in Garcia reverted back to the law as previously set forth by the United States Supreme Court in the 1980 case of U.S. v. Mendenhall. Mendenhall stated that a person is seized when a reasonable person under the circumstance would not feel free to leave.

Utilizing the Mendenhall standard, and the protections set forth in Article II, Section 10, the Court found that Joshua Garcia was illegally seized at the moment the officer shown his spot on him and commanded him to stop. Because there was no reasonable suspicion for the stop, the search and seizure that ensued was illegal, and the crack cocaine should have been excluded from evidence.

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