991 P.2d 477 (N.M. 1999), 23,815, State v. Coffin

Docket Nº:23,815.
Citation:991 P.2d 477, 128 N.M. 192, 1999 -NMSC- 38
Opinion Judge:Serna, Justice.
Party Name:STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Curtis COFFIN, Defendant-Appellant.
Attorney:Phyllis H. Subin, Chief Public Defender, Will O'Connell, Assistant Appellate Defender, Santa Fe, for Appellant. Patricia A. Madrid, Attorney General, M. Victoria Wilson, Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, for Appellee.
Judge Panel:MINZNER, C.J., BACA, FRANCHINI, and MAES, JJ., concur.
Case Date:October 06, 1999
Court:Supreme Court of New Mexico
 
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Page 477

991 P.2d 477 (N.M. 1999)

128 N.M. 192, 1999 -NMSC- 38

STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Curtis COFFIN, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 23,815.

Supreme Court of New Mexico

October 6, 1999.

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[128 N.M. 198] Phyllis H. Subin, Chief Public Defender, Will O'Connell, Assistant Appellate Defender, Santa Fe, for Appellant.

Patricia A. Madrid, Attorney General, M. Victoria Wilson, Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, for Appellee.

OPINION

SERNA, Justice.

{1} Defendant Curtis Coffin appeals his convictions of first degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and bribery of a witness. Coffin contends that the trial court erred in refusing jury instructions that would have elaborated on his claim of self-defense and provocation. He also contends that the trial court's response to a jury question concerning premeditation caused jury confusion with respect to the statutorily defined mens rea for the crime of first degree murder. Additionally, Coffin claims that the trial court erred in excluding some of the evidence he offered at trial and in admitting other evidence offered by the State. Coffin further raises several challenges relating to the seeking

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[128 N.M. 199] of the death penalty by the State in this case, even though the jury did not impose a sentence of death. Coffin also claims that the State's late filing of notice of intent to seek the death penalty caused a delay in the commencement of trial that violated his right to a speedy trial. Finally, Coffin contends that there is insufficient evidence in the record to support his first degree murder and bribery of a witness convictions. We conclude that Coffin's arguments are without merit and therefore affirm his convictions.

I. Facts

{2} On March 8, 1995, Coffin and several of his friends, Ralph Gutierrez, John Saldana, and Deanda Montoya, spent the evening driving around Albuquerque in a mini-van belonging to Coffin's father, and drinking beer purchased earlier in the evening at Sal's Discount Liquors. At one point, while in a field, John Saldana asked Coffin if he could fire his pistol, a .22 caliber Beretta, and after Coffin agreed, Saldana fired several shots out of the window of the mini-van. Once the group finished the beer purchased earlier in the evening, they returned to Sal's to buy more.

{3} Coffin parked his mini-van in the parking lot at Sal's near the liquor store entrance. Ralph Gutierrez went inside the bar portion of Sal's to use the phone and the restroom, while John Saldana walked up to the liquor store to buy more alcohol. Upon finding the door to the liquor store locked, Saldana walked around to the drive-up window where a number of cars waited in line. The drive-up window attendant, David Fresquez, told Saldana to go back around to the door to the liquor store, which Fresquez would unlock, because the two men in the car next in line, Chris Charles Martinez (Chris Martinez, Sr.) and Chris Alfred Martinez (Chris Martinez, Jr.), were giving Saldana dirty looks. Chris Martinez, Jr. was associated with the Lomas Trece gang, and Coffin, Gutierrez, and Saldana belonged to a rival gang, Los Carnales Locos (LCL), which claimed an area of Albuquerque that included Sal's. Chris Martinez, Jr. and Saldana had worked at the same restaurant. Saldana went inside the package liquor store as Fresquez had suggested, and Fresquez returned to selling liquor at the drive-up window.

{4} While Saldana and Gutierrez were still inside Sal's, the Martinezes, after their purchase at the drive-up window, drove through the parking lot near Coffin's mini-van. The Martinezes stopped their car in the middle of the parking lot and got out, leaving the doors open and the lights of the car on. Coffin also exited his vehicle, and an altercation ensued.

{5} Coffin testified that his friend Ronnie Contreras was standing by his mini-van and that the Martinezes called Ronnie by name and approached him in an aggressive manner. Coffin testified that, after he reassured Ronnie that he would not let the Martinezes "jump" him, Chris Martinez, Sr. approached Coffin, and Coffin thought there would be a fight with him against the father and Ronnie against the son. At that point, according to Coffin, he saw Chris Martinez, Sr. reach in his pocket for a weapon. As a result, Coffin pulled out his gun and told the Martinezes to get back in their car. Coffin testified that Chris Martinez, Jr. braced his father with his arm and, although the father did not seem to care about Coffin's gun, they turned back toward their car. According to Coffin's testimony, after Coffin started to return to his mini-van, the Martinezes then turned back around and approached him in an aggressive manner. Coffin testified that he "was afraid of getting attacked, possibly dead" and that, because his earlier attempt to break up the fight had failed, he "panicked" and started firing his gun at "pretty much both of them." Following the shooting, Coffin drove away from Sal's in the mini-van with Deanda Montoya and Gutierrez, the latter of whom had exited Sal's immediately after the shots were fired.

{6} Other witnesses told somewhat different versions of the altercation between Coffin and the Martinezes. Leo Gonzales, who was sitting in a truck in the parking lot, testified that Coffin was near his mini-van with Ronnie Contreras. The Martinezes pulled up in the parking lot near Coffin's mini-van, and after Chris Martinez, Jr. got out of his car, he and Coffin started arguing. Leo Gonzales testified that Coffin was shouting

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[128 N.M. 200] and that Chris Martinez, Jr. tried to stop the argument by putting up his hand and saying, "It's cool man." Gonzales testified that Chris Martinez, Jr. did not appear to be acting in a threatening manner. During the argument, Chris Martinez, Sr. got out of his car, and according to Gonzales, "that's when it got worse." As Chris Martinez, Sr. joined the argument, he was walking in an aggressive manner, and Coffin pulled out his gun and fired several shots. Gonzales testified that, after hearing the first shot, he directed his attention to trying to get his companion, Johnny Lucero, to drive away from Sal's, but Gonzales looked back in the side mirror on the passenger side of Lucero's truck and saw Coffin pointing his gun at the ground while he continued to fire.

{7} According to Deanda Montoya, who was in the back of the mini-van during the entire incident, there was nobody else outside the van after Gutierrez and Saldana went inside Sal's and nobody yelled out Ronnie Contreras's name. After Coffin got out of the van, Montoya did not pay attention to what was happening until she heard a gunshot. At that point, she looked outside the van and saw one person lying on the ground and another standing. Coffin told the man who was standing to get back into his car, and as the man started to turn around to return to the car, Coffin shot him more than once and shot him again after he fell to the ground.

{8} The police arrived at Sal's to find two bodies, both lying on their back. Emergency personnel attempted to resuscitate Chris Martinez, Sr. and transported him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead after about twenty minutes of life-saving efforts. Medical personnel pronounced Chris Martinez, Jr. dead at the scene. Near the location where the police discovered Chris Martinez, Sr., the police found a small pocket knife, opened, lying on the ground. Doctor Julia Goodin, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies on both Martinezes, testified at trial concerning their gunshot wounds. Chris Martinez, Sr. received two gunshot wounds, one on the left side of the head near the ear, traveling slightly front to back and left to right and lodging at the base of the skull and brain. The second gunshot wound was in the left chest area near the armpit, traveling right to left. Mr. Martinez, Sr. had a blood alcohol level of .269 percent. Chris Martinez, Jr. received four gunshot wounds: one to the left side of the jaw traveling slightly left to right and back to front, exiting through the chin; a second behind the left ear, traveling left to right and back to front, lodging in the base of the skull; a third just below the latter gunshot behind the left ear, with a similar trajectory; and, finally, a fourth in the lower middle of the back, traveling left to right and back to front, hitting the spine. Mr. Martinez, Jr. had a blood alcohol level of .156 percent.

{9} At trial, Coffin attempted to portray the fight as gang-related as early as his opening statement. Following the presentation of evidence, Coffin argued that he acted in self-defense or with sufficient provocation to constitute voluntary manslaughter. Finally, Coffin argued that there was no evidence of premeditation. The jury convicted Coffin of the first degree murder of Chris Martinez, Jr., the voluntary manslaughter of Chris Martinez, Sr., and bribery of a witness. Coffin challenges each of these convictions on appeal.

II. Instructions to the Jury

{10} Coffin contends that the trial court erred in refusing three of his requested jury instructions dealing with the issues of self-defense and provocation. Additionally, Coffin claims that the trial court's response to the jury's inquiry about premeditation irreparably confused the elements of first degree murder. For the following reasons, we conclude that the trial court properly instructed the jury and did not err in its response to the jury's question concerning premeditation.

A. Requested Instruction on Self-Defense Against an Accessory

{11}...

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