State Of N.M. v. Tafoya, 30,396.

Citation237 P.3d 693,148 N.M. 391
Decision Date28 April 2010
Docket NumberNo. 30,396.,30,396.
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Anthony TAFOYA, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico

148 N.M. 391
237 P.3d 693

STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Anthony TAFOYA, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 30,396.

Supreme Court of New Mexico.

April 28, 2010.

237 P.3d 694


237 P.3d 695
237 P.3d 696

Hugh W. Dangler, Chief Public Defender, Kathleen T. Baldridge, Assistant Appellate Defender, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellant.

Gary K. King, Attorney General, Andrew S. Montgomery, Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellee.


SERNA, Justice.

I. Introduction

{1} Defendant Anthony Tafoya pled guilty to first degree murder and was sentenced as a serious youthful offender. The Second Judicial District Court exercised its statutorily granted discretion in sentencing Defendant as a serious youthful offender by imposing a sentence of thirty years imprisonment, with ten years suspended, and four days good time credit eligibility per month. Defendant appeals the limitation on his good time credit eligibility, arguing that it violates the legislative enactment of the prison good time credit scheme, the Earned Meritorious Deductions Act (“EMDA”), NMSA 1978, Section 33-2-34 (2006).

{2} The EMDA governs the eligibility for and award of good time credits in our state prisons. The statute is silent, however, on the good time credit eligibility of individuals, such as Defendant, sentenced as serious youthful offenders for convictions of first degree murder and receiving less than a life sentence. After construing the EMDA harmoniously with the relevant sentencing statutes and taking into consideration the strong policy of encouraging rehabilitation of juvenile offenders, we conclude that the district court's discretion in sentencing serious youthful offenders implies the discretion to limit, as part of the sentence, Defendant's good time credit eligibility to four days per month. Defendant's sentence is affirmed.

II. Background

{3} Defendant pled no contest to first degree murder, felony murder, contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 30-2-1(A)(2) (1994). Per the terms of the plea agreement, Defendant, age sixteen at the time of the murder, was sentenced as a serious youthful offender. The plea agreement set forth the district court's full discretion in sentencing Defendant “anywhere from probation up to a life sentence” and defined a life sentence as “a 30 year sentence before the possibility of parole, and without any good time credit followed by 5 years parole.”

237 P.3d 697

{4} The district court sentenced Defendant to “life[,]” which the district court “interpreted ... as meaning a 30 year sentence[,]” with ten years of the sentence suspended and five years of probation, citing its statutory discretion in sentencing serious youthful offenders under NMSA 1978, Sections 31-18-13(A) (1993) and 31-18-15.3(D) (1993). The sentence authorized “[t]he Department of Corrections [ (“DOC”) ] ... to award Defendant good time credit in accordance with New Mexico law.” When Defendant began serving his sentence, the DOC calculated his good time eligibility at the rate of thirty days per month. Subsequently, at the request of the DOC, the State filed a Motion to Clarify Judgment and Sentence seeking an explanation of the award permitting Defendant to earn good time credits. After a hearing, the district court ruled that Defendant was eligible to earn four days good time credit per month. Defendant then filed a Motion to Reconsider, which the district court denied. The district court's final order on Defendant's sentence ruled “[t]hat [ ] Defendant can earn a maximum of up to 4 days per month of good time credit ... if he indeed earns it.”

{5} Defendant appeals the final order and argues that, under the EMDA, he should be eligible for up to thirty days good time credit per month. This appeal invokes our mandatory appellate jurisdiction under Article VI, Section 2 of the New Mexico Constitution and Rule 12-102(A)(1) NMRA. See State v. Trujillo, 2002-NMSC-005, ¶¶ 9-10, 131 N.M. 709, 42 P.3d 814 (holding that this Court has jurisdiction over a direct appeal from a serious youthful offender who received less than a life sentence because to require the “rare case of a serious youthful offender convicted of first-degree murder” to appeal first to the Court of Appeals would create “confusion and inconsistency” in our case law).

III. Defendant's Plea Agreement Did Not Waive His Right to This Appeal

{6} Before reaching the merits of Defendant's argument, we must address whether Defendant's plea agreement prohibits this appeal. In his plea agreement, Defendant “specifically waive[d] his right to appeal as long as the court's sentence is imposed according to the terms of this agreement.” The State posits that the waiver may preclude this appeal. We disagree, and hold that a plea agreement may not waive the right to challenge on appeal whether a sentence was imposed without jurisdiction.

{7} We recently reiterated that “a voluntary guilty plea ordinarily constitutes a waiver of a defendant's right to appeal his conviction on other than jurisdictional grounds.” State v. Chavarria, 2009-NMSC-020, ¶ 9, 146 N.M. 251, 208 P.3d 896 ( quoting State v. Hodge, 118 N.M. 410, 414, 882 P.2d 1, 5 (1994)). While we are careful to confine “the term ‘jurisdictional error’ ... to instances in which the court was not competent to act,” State v. Orosco, 113 N.M. 780, 783, 833 P.2d 1146, 1149 (1992), a court's sentencing power properly is considered part of its subject matter jurisdiction. Chavarria, 2009-NMSC-020, ¶¶ 11-12, 146 N.M. 251, 208 P.3d 896; see also State v. Trujillo, 2007-NMSC-017, ¶ 8, 141 N.M. 451, 157 P.3d 16 (“Because a trial court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction to impose a sentence that is illegal, the legality of a sentence need not be raised in the trial court.”); State v. Wyman, 2008-NMCA-113, ¶ 2, 144 N.M. 701, 191 P.3d 559, cert. granted, 2008-NMCERT-008, 145 N.M. 255, 195 P.3d 1267, cert. quashed 2009-NMCERT-012, 147 N.M. 601, 227 P.3d 91 (“A claim that a sentence is illegal and unauthorized by statute is jurisdictional and may be raised for the first time on appeal.”). Defendant's plea agreement, therefore, does not waive an appeal on the grounds that the district court was without authority to impose an illegal sentence.

{8} In this case, the district court granted Defendant good time credit eligibility as part of his sentence. Eligibility to earn good time credits is determined as part of sentencing only in a narrow class of cases. Courts generally have a “limited role” in administering the EMDA. State v. Rudolfo, 2008-NMSC-036, ¶ 37, 144 N.M. 305, 187 P.3d 170. Under the EMDA, good time credit eligibility is determined as part of sentencing only when a sentence is imposed on a defendant for one of fifteen delineated crimes for which

237 P.3d 698

the court must decide whether the crime qualifies as a serious violent offense and thus a limited amount of good time credit eligibility per month. Section 33-2-34(L)(4)( o ). As we discuss in great detail below, this is a rare case in which the district court properly determined Defendant's good time credit eligibility as part of his sentence based on its discretion in sentencing serious youthful offenders, and thus this challenge to that limitation is to the district court's sentencing jurisdiction and was not waived by the plea agreement.

IV. The Court's Discretion in Sentencing Serious Youthful Offenders Implies Discretion to Limit Good Time Credit Eligibility

{9} Because the power of the courts to sentence is granted by statute, see State v. Davis, 2003-NMSC-022, ¶ 6, 134 N.M. 172, 74 P.3d 1064, we must analyze whether the EMDA permits the district court to limit the number of days for which a serious youthful offender is eligible to earn good time credit as part of the sentence. When an appeal presents an issue of statutory construction, our review is de novo. State v. Marquez, 2008-NMSC-055, ¶ 7, 145 N.M. 1, 193 P.3d 548.

{10} In construing a statute, we must “ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature.” State v. Cleve, 1999-NMSC-017, ¶ 8, 127 N.M. 240, 980 P.2d 23. To accomplish this, we apply the plain meaning of the statute “unless the language is doubtful, ambiguous, or an adherence to the literal use of the words would lead to injustice, absurdity or contradiction, in which case the statute is to be construed according to its obvious spirit or reason.” Davis, 2003-NMSC-022, ¶ 6, 134 N.M. 172, 74 P.3d 1064. When application of the plain meaning of the statute fails to result in a reasonable or just conclusion, we examine legislative history and “the overall structure of the statute and its function in the comprehensive legislative scheme.” State v. Smith, 2004-NMSC-032, ¶ 10, 136 N.M. 372, 98 P.3d 1022. While the consideration of public policy is the province of the Legislature, State v. Maestas, 2007-NMSC-001, ¶ 14, 140 N.M. 836, 149 P.3d 933 (filed 2006), where a statute is ambiguous, we may consider the policy implications of varying constructions of the statute. See State v. Rivera, 2004-NMSC-001, ¶ 14, 134 N.M. 768, 82 P.3d 939 (filed 2003) (noting that this Court “would be exceeding the bounds of our role as an appellate court by second-guessing the clear policy of the Legislature” (emphasis added)). “Whenever possible, ... we must read different legislative enactments as harmonious instead of as contradicting one another.” State v. Muniz, 2003-NMSC-021, ¶ 14, 134 N.M. 152, 74 P.3d 86, superseded in part by statute, NMSA 1978, § 32A-2-20(A), (G) (2005), as recognized in State v. Jones, 2010-NMSC-012, ¶ 19, 148 N.M. 1, 229 P.3d 474; see also State v. Flores, 2004-NMSC-021, ¶ 10, 135 N.M. 759, 93 P.3d 1264 (“[S]tatutes which relate to the same class of things are considered to be in pari materia, and, if possible by reasonable construction[.]” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted; first alteration in original)).

{11} We commence our analysis by looking to the plain meaning of...

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