870 P.2d 103 (N.M. 1994), 20540, State v. Attaway

Docket Nº:20540.
Citation:870 P.2d 103, 117 N.M. 141, 1994 -NMSC- 011
Opinion Judge:[10] Ransom
Party Name:STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Lyonal Ray ATTAWAY, Defendant-Petitioner.
Attorney:Sammy J. Quintana, Chief Public Defender, and Bruce Rogoff, Asst. Appellate Defender, Santa Fe, for defendant-petitioner., Tom Udall, Atty. Gen., and Elizabeth Blaisdell, Asst. Atty. Gen., Santa Fe, for plaintiff-respondent. [7] Sammy J. Quintana, Chief Public Defender, Bruce Rogoff, Assistant A...
Judge Panel:FROST, J., concurs.
Case Date:February 02, 1994
Court:Supreme Court of New Mexico

Page 103

870 P.2d 103 (N.M. 1994)

117 N.M. 141, 1994 -NMSC- 011

STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Respondent,


Lyonal Ray ATTAWAY, Defendant-Petitioner.

No. 20540.

Supreme Court of New Mexico.

February 2, 1994

Page 104

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[117 N.M. 143] Sammy J. Quintana, Chief Public Defender, and Bruce Rogoff, Asst. Appellate Defender, Santa Fe, for defendant-petitioner.

Tom Udall, Atty. Gen., and Elizabeth Blaisdell, Asst. Atty. Gen., Santa Fe, for plaintiff-respondent.


RANSOM, Chief Justice.

We issued a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals to review an opinion of that Court sanctioning forcible police entry pursuant to a warrant within ten to fifteen seconds after the executing officer announced his authority and purpose. See State v. Attaway, 114 N.M. 83, 835 P.2d 81 (Ct.App.1992). In this opinion, we discuss the standard by which we review a district court's determination that exigent circumstances were present, examine the basis for the "knock and announce" rule under federal and state law, and review the state and federal constitutional arguments asserted below. 1 We affirm.

Facts. On January 5, 1990, Clovis Police Department Detective Robert Littlejohn requested SWAT team assistance to execute arrest and search warrants on Lyonal Attaway. The search warrant authorized the search of Attaway's residence for drugs, drug paraphernalia, and weapons. Littlejohn briefed the SWAT team sometime prior to the operation. At 6:00 Saturday morning, January 6, the SWAT team approached the front door to the Attaway home with the warrants. Officer Wayne Atchley opened the storm door to the house, knocked on the inner door, and announced both his purpose and authority. The officers testified at a suppression hearing that they noticed a light on in the front of the house. After approximately ten to fifteen seconds passed without response, the officers forcibly breached the front door and set off a diversionary device inside the house. The officers apprehended a woman, later identified as Attaway's spouse, as she fled from the front part of the house. The officers discovered and apprehended Attaway in his bedroom. Pursuant to the arrest and subsequent search, the officers seized from the house several weapons, including a submachine gun and a sawed-off shotgun, methamphetamines, drug paraphernalia, and a videocassette recording.

Attaway moved to suppress all the evidence seized. He contended that the officers failed to comply with the knock-and-announce rule and that this failure rendered the search unreasonable under the United States and New Mexico constitutions. See U.S. Const. amend. IV; N.M. Const. art. II, Sec. 10. The trial court denied the motion and Attaway was convicted on one count of distribution of a controlled substance under NMSA 1978, Section 30-31-22(A)(2) (Repl.Pamp.1989)

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[117 N.M. 144] and one count of possession of a controlled substance under NMSA 1978, Section 30-31-23(B)(4) (Repl.Pamp.1989). The Court of Appeals affirmed and Attaway petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari.

Standard for reviewing determination of exigent circumstances. In State v. Sanchez, 88 N.M. 402, 540 P.2d 1291 (1975), this Court held that a district court's determination of exigent circumstances was a question of fact, subject to the deferential substantial evidence standard of review:

The questions of "good faith belief" and "exigent circumstances" are questions of fact for the trial court to determine, and the findings of the trial court in these regards are entitled to be accorded the same weight and given the same consideration as is generally accorded a trial court's findings by appellate courts. Substantial evidence is the measure of proof, or the quality and quantity of the evidence, required to support the findings of the trial court.

88 N.M. at 403, 540 P.2d at 1292 (citations omitted). In the Court of Appeals, Attaway contended that review of the trial court's exigency determination should not be simply one of substantial evidence. The Court of Appeals appears to have agreed, see 114 N.M. at 86, 835 P.2d at 84, but offered no rationale for its conclusion. We likewise agree and offer the following rationale.

--Fact-finding. Initially, the trial court must establish the historical facts that animate the transaction to be evaluated. The court performs this fact-finding role by reciting events and assessing the credibility of the testimony offered. This component of the analysis is purely factual, and a trial court is to be given wide latitude in determining that an historical fact has been proven. We review these purely factual assessments to determine if the fact-finder's conclusion is supported in the record by substantial evidence. See State v. Bloom, 90 N.M. 192, 194, 561 P.2d 465, 467 (1977) (stating that appellate court must limit itself "to a consideration of whether the evidence substantially support[s] the trial court's finding").

--Application of law to the facts, the mixed question of law and fact. As to review of the trial court's application of law to the facts in its decision-making process, we find most useful the analysis in the oft-cited case of United States v. McConney, 728 F.2d 1195 (9th Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 824, 105 S.Ct. 101, 83 L.Ed.2d 46 (1984). There, the court invoked principles of appellate review and erected a framework, based on policy considerations, for determining whether a mixed question is to be reviewed de novo or under a more deferential standard:

The appropriate standard of review for a district judge's application of law to fact may be determined, in our view, by reference to the sound principles which underlie the settled rules of appellate review.... If the concerns of judicial administration--efficiency, accuracy, and precedential weight--make it more appropriate for a district judge to determine whether the established facts fall within the relevant legal definition, we should subject his determination to deferential, clearly erroneous review. If, on the other hand, the concerns of judicial administration favor the appellate court, we should subject the district judge's finding to de novo review.... [T]he pivotal question is do the concerns of judicial administration favor the district court or ... the appellate court.


If application of the rule of law to the facts requires an inquiry that is "essentially factual[ ]" ...--one that is founded "on the application of the fact-finding tribunal's experience with the mainsprings of human conduct[ ]" ...--the concerns of judicial administration will favor the district court, and the district court's determination should be classified as one of fact reviewable under the clearly erroneous standard. If, on the other hand, the question requires us to consider legal concepts in the mix of fact and law and to exercise judgment about the values that animate legal principles, then the concerns of judicial administration will favor the appellate court, and the question should be classified as one of law and reviewed de novo.

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[117 N.M. 145] Id. at 1202 (quoting Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U.S. 273, 288, 289-90 n. 19, 102 S.Ct. 1781, 1789, 1790-91 n. 19, 72 L.Ed.2d 66 (1982); Commissioner v. Duberstein, 363 U.S. 278, 289, 80 S.Ct. 1190, 1198, 4 L.Ed.2d 1218 (1960)).

The court identified two interests behind the deferential standard applied to questions of fact. First, by assigning primary responsibility for resolving factual disputes to the court in the superior position--the trial court--the risk of judicial error is minimized. McConney, 728 F.2d at 1201. Second, the deferential standard relieves the appellate court "of the burden of a full-scale independent review and evaluation of the evidence." Id. In comparison, with respect to de novo review, appellate judges are better able to concentrate their resources on legal questions because they are free from the time-consuming process of hearing evidence. Id. In addition, the "judgment of at least three members of an appellate panel is brought to bear on every case" and the "collaborative, deliberative process of appellate courts reduces the risk of judicial error on questions of law." Id. The court observed that the binding nature of an appellate ruling, contrasted with the limited force of a factual determination, militates in favor of concentrating combined appellate resources on the issue to ensure the correctness of the legal result. Id.

The court applied that methodology to conclude that the mixed question of exigent circumstances should be subject to de novo review as a question of law. Id. at 1205. According to the court, deciding whether the facts present exigencies "goes beyond the historical facts." Id. "The mixed question of exigency is rooted in constitutional principles and policies.... [I]ts resolution requires us to consider abstract legal doctrines, to weigh underlying policy considerations, and to balance competing legal interests." Id. (footnotes omitted). We likewise have applied de novo review to threshold constitutional issues such as the voluntariness of confessions, see Aguilar v. State, 106 N.M. 798, 799, 751 P.2d 178, 179 (1988), and to the validity of search warrants, see State v. Snedeker, 99 N.M. 286, 290, 657 P.2d 613, 617 (1982).

The myriad rules, exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions that flourish in the jurisprudence of search and seizure are often no more than factual manifestations of the constitutional requirement that searches and seizures be reasonable. The rules and tests, based as they are on careful balancing of the underlying constitutional values, reflect the efforts of appellate judges to establish objective standards to measure and inform law enforcement practices. In this sense, none of the...

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