Double Jeopardy and Trial De Novo from New Mexico Magistrate Court

The New Mexico Court of Appeals case State v. Baca deals with a number of important criminal defense issues. In sum, the court addresses the issues of trial de novo following a magistrate court dismissal with prejudice and how such dismissal plays into double jeopardy.

This case involves a defendant who was arrested for aggravated DWI and illegally driving left of center on a New Mexico roadway. The case was filed in magistrate court.

When the prosecutor failed to attend a pretrial conference, the magistrate judge dismissed the case without prejudice. Simply put, the magistrate dismissed the case but left the door open for the prosecutor to re-file the charges against the defendant.

The prosecutor then filed a second criminal complaint in the magistrate court with the same charges. However, the prosecutor didn‘t comply with New Mexico‘s requirements for the re-filing of a criminal complaint under Rule 6-506A(C). The trial was commenced in the magistrate court despite the fact that the prosecutor had not complied with the re-filing requirements.

The prosecutor called the arresting officer to testify. During cross examination, it was established that the State had violated Rule 5-506(C). The judge therefore suppressed the officer‘s testimony. In so doing, he dismissed the case with prejudice. The State appealed to the district court.

According to Rule 5-826(J), appeals from a magistrate court are to be heard in a district court de novo. In other words, the rule simply states that a district court will hear this kind of case anew.

The defendant argued that a de novo review by the district court would violate his constitutional right to be free from double jeopardy. The district court disagreed holding that the dismissal was based purely on procedural grounds so that double jeopardy had not attached.

The defendant appealed to the New Mexico Court of Appeals. There was much discussion about the use of the appropriate language for acquittal. However, the gist of the issue comes down to when double jeopardy attached.

The Court explained that when it determines whether a court ruling constitutes an acquittal, it doesn‘t look to the specific language used by a magistrate judge, but it looks instead to whether the court‘s ruling “resolved some or all of the factual elements of the crime.” If a magistrate court‘s ruling does resolve some of those factual elements, then an appeal is barred by double jeopardy.

The Court of Appeals relied on a couple of decisions from New Mexico Supreme Court, State v. Lizzol and State v. Marquez. Taken together, the Court determined that double jeopardy attaches once the State has called its witnesses to the stand. At that point, a dismissal is at least in part factual versus purely procedural.

In this case, the officer did in fact take the stand. Based upon his testimony, the court made factual findings that resulted in a dismissal of the case. Once those factual findings were made by the court, double jeopardy attached and subsequent retrial in district court was barred.

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Related Reading:
Double Jeopardy Issue Addressed in New Mexico Habitual Sentencing Case
Scope of Review in de novo Appeals from New Mexico Municipal Courts

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