718 P.2d 686 (N.M. 1986), 15755, State v. Ball

Docket Nº:15755.
Citation:718 P.2d 686, 104 N.M. 176, 1986 -NMSC- 030
Opinion Judge:[9] Stowers
Party Name:STATE of New Mexico, Petitioner, v. Eugene Martin BALL, Respondent.
Attorney:Paul Bardacke, Atty. Gen., Elizabeth Major, Asst. Atty. Gen., Dennis Romero, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Santa Fe, for petitioner., Jacquelyn Robins, Chief Public Defender, Mark Shapiro, Asst. Public Defender, Albuquerque, for respondent. [7] Paul Bardacke, Attorney General, Elizabeth Major, Assistant...
Judge Panel:RIORDAN, C.J., and FEDERICI, J., concur. SOSA, Senior Justice, dissenting. WALTERS, J., dissenting. SOSA, Senior Justice, dissenting. NEAL and ALARID, JJ., concur. WALTERS, Justice (dissenting).
Case Date:April 24, 1986
Court:Supreme Court of New Mexico
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 686

718 P.2d 686 (N.M. 1986)

104 N.M. 176, 1986 -NMSC- 030

STATE of New Mexico, Petitioner,

v.

Eugene Martin BALL, Respondent.

No. 15755.

Supreme Court of New Mexico.

April 24, 1986

Page 687

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 688

[104 N.M. 178] Paul Bardacke, Atty. Gen., Elizabeth Major, Asst. Atty. Gen., Dennis Romero, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Santa Fe, for petitioner.

Jacquelyn Robins, Chief Public Defender, Mark Shapiro, Asst. Public Defender, Albuquerque, for respondent.

OPINION

STOWERS, Justice.

Each defendant entered either a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to misdemeanor charges in metropolitan court. Found guilty and sentenced by the metropolitan court, each defendant appealed to district court, seeking a trial de novo. The district court dismissed their appeals, and defendants appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals held unconstitutional NMSA 1978, Subsection 34-8A-6(C) (Repl.Pamp.1981), and NMSA 1978, Metro. Rule 71(a) (Repl.Pamp.1985), which limit to "aggrieved" defendants appeals from metropolitan court judgments. It held that N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27 guarantees appeals to unaggrieved defendants as well, and reversed and remanded each case for trial de novo in district court.

We granted certiorari, and now reverse the Court of Appeals decision.

This case presents the following issues:

(1) Does Subsection 34-8A-6(C), which permits "[a]ny person aggrieved by any judgment rendered by the metropolitan court" to appeal to the district court, and does the similar language of Metro.Rule 71(a) impermissibly abridge the right of appeal guaranteed by N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27?

(2) Does the right of appeal from judgments rendered by the metropolitan court extend to the five defendants in this case who entered pleas of guilty or nolo contendere to misdemeanor charges in metropolitan court?

(3) Does the right of appeal from judgments rendered by the metropolitan court extend to defendant Ball, who, pursuant to an oral plea and disposition agreement, pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentencing recommendation by the prosecutor which was rejected by the metropolitan court?

We hold that the constitutional guarantee of the right of appeal was intended by its framers to extend only to persons aggrieved by judgments of inferior courts, and that none of these defendants is such an aggrieved person entitled to a de novo trial on appeal.

I. Constitutional and Statutory Provisions.

N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27 states: "Appeals shall be allowed in all cases from the final judgments and decisions of the probate courts and other inferior courts to the district courts, and in all such appeals, trial shall be had de novo unless otherwise provided by law."

Subsection 34-8A-6(C) provides that:

Any person aggrieved by any judgment rendered by the metropolitan court may appeal to the district court of the county in which such judgment has been rendered within fifteen days after entry of the judgment. All criminal trials upon appeal from the metropolitan court shall be de novo unless otherwise specified by supreme court rule. (Emphasis added.)

This Court similarly has provided appellate procedures for "aggrieved" defendants in Metro.Rule 71(a) and NMSA 1978, Metro.Rule 71(i) (Repl.Pamp.1985).

It is the duty of this Court to uphold statutes unless it is satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that the Legislature went outside the Constitution in enacting the challenged legislation. Espanola Housing Authority v. Atencio, 90 N.M. 787, 788, 568 P.2d 1233, 1234 (1977). Our first task is to interpret the scope of the constitutional right of appeal given by N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27.

II. Court of Appeals Interpretation of N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27.

In concluding that Subsection 23-8A-6(C) and Metro.Rule 71(a) unconstitutionally

Page 689

[104 N.M. 179] abridge the right of appeal granted by N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27, the Court of Appeals examined its precedents, which focused attention upon the phrase "unless otherwise provided by law," and upon the Legislature's power to alter the right of appeal. See N.M. Const. art. VI, Sec. 27. Those precedents, like the Court of Appeals decision in this case, failed to examine the constitutional meaning of "appeals."

In City of Albuquerque v. Sanchez, 81 N.M. 272, 466 P.2d 118 (Ct.App.1970), the court held that defendants who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in municipal court were entitled to appeal to district court for trials de novo. As the Court of Appeals in this case observed, the Sanchez court rested its decision upon NMSA 1953, Section 21-10-1 (Cum.Supp.1969), which provided that "[a]ll appeals from inferior tribunals to the district courts shall be tried anew in said courts on their merits, as if no trial had been had below, except as otherwise provided by law." In dictum, however, the Sanchez court concluded that the Legislature might limit appeals after guilty pleas, for the language of N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27 authorized "legislative therapy" to change the right granted. Sanchez, 81 N.M. at 273, 466 P.2d at 119. After the enactment of Subsection 34-8A-6(C), which in pertinent part provides that "[a]ny person aggrieved by any judgment rendered by the metropolitan court may appeal to the district court ...," the Court of Appeals held that "legislative therapy [had] taken place" and that a party must be aggrieved in order to take an appeal from metropolitan court to district court. State v. Bazan, 97 N.M. 531, 534, 641 P.2d 1078, 1081 (Ct.App.), cert. denied, 97 N.M. 483, 641 P.2d 514 (1982) (alternate holding).

The Court of Appeals in the case now before us reviewed its precedents and concluded that the Sanchez suggestion, followed in Bazan, that the Legislature is authorized to change the right of appeal, was inaccurate. It correctly interpreted the phrase "unless otherwise provided by law" in N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27 as authorization for legislative changes in the procedural form of appeals from de novo to appellate, not in the substantive right of appeal.

The Court of Appeals then turned to the phrase "[a]ppeals shall be allowed in all cases" in N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27. Focusing on the words "in all cases," it concluded that by limiting the right of appeal to aggrieved persons, Subsection 34-8A-6(C) diminished impermissibly the constitutional right to appeal. This Court rejected a nearly identical argument as "wholly without merit" many years ago in Levers v. Houston, 49 N.M. 169, 174, 159 P.2d 761, 764 (1945) (statutory time limitations).

The Court of Appeals decision erred in its analysis of N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27 because it completely failed to consider the meaning of "appeals" in that provision. We must examine the intention of the Constitution's framers in order to define the right of appeal they guaranteed by the adoption of N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27.

III. Meaning of "appeal" in N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27.

No New Mexico case expressly has determined the scope and limitations of the right of appeal guaranteed to criminal defendants by N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27. The alternate holding of the Court of Appeals in Bazan presents the most thorough examination of the issue. Quoting N.M. Const. art. VI, Sec. 27, as well as NMSA 1978, Sections 39-3-1 and 34-8A-6, and NMSA 1978, Metro.Rule 71, the Court of Appeals held that whether the defendant was "aggrieved" was a threshold question to any decision regarding his right to appeal. Bazan, 97 N.M. at 533-34, 641 P.2d 1080-81.

Our other cases have relied upon the statutes, not the constitutional provision. Sanchez purported to find a statutory right to appeal for a trial de novo after entering a guilty plea in an inferior court. Sanchez, 81 N.M. at 273, 466 P.2d at 119. Prior to the adoption of New Mexico's Constitution, the Territorial Supreme Court in dictum commented that the statute then in effect

Page 690

[104 N.M. 180] gave the right to appeal for a trial de novo to a person who entered a plea of guilty before a justice of the peace. Douthitt v. Bailey, 14 N.M. 530, 535, 99 P. 342, 343 (1908) (a criminal case decided under NMSA 1897, Sec. 3305). The Douthitt dictum was cited in more dictum in Faggard v. Cunningham, 18 N.M. 510, 512, 138 P. 264, 264 (1914), a civil case decided under the same statute and without discussion of the recently adopted N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27.

A. Interpretation of Constitutional Language.

The ordinary definition of an appeal, a resort to a superior court to review the decision of an inferior court, Black's Law Dictionary 88 (rev. 5th ed. 1979), does not adequately describe the appeal in issue here. Indeed, we have distinguished the appeal addressed by N.M. Const. art. VI, Section 27 and the statutes regarding inferior courts from the dictionary meaning, and have described it as the removal of a cause from the inferior to a superior court. Lea County State Bank v. McCaskey Register Co., 39 N.M. 454, 459, 49 P.2d 577, 579-80 (1935); see also In re Ortiz's Estate, 31 N.M. 427, 429, 246 P. 908, 909 (1926). When constitutional language is not defined within the Constitution, resort to the rules of statutory construction is appropriate. State ex rel. Wood v. King, 93 N.M. 715, 718, 605 P.2d 223, 226 (1979). There is an ambiguity in the constitutional language which we must resolve in accordance with those rules. See New Mexico State Board of Education v. Board of Education, 95 N.M. 588, 590, 624 P.2d 530, 532 (1981).

Our interpretation of the Constitution must not be too literal, for it is our duty to give effect to the spirit and intent of the Constitution's framers. Board of County Commissioners v. McCulloh, 52 N.M. 210, 215-16, 195 P.2d...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP