State v. Aqui

Citation1986 NMSC 48,104 N.M. 345,721 P.2d 771
Decision Date24 June 1986
Docket NumberNo. 16313,16313
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Petitioner, v. Joe A. AQUI, a/k/a Kajun Lee, Phillip Greg Sena, Bonita Marie Gobel, a/k/a Maria Bonita Boyd, a/k/a Bonita Maria Boyd, a/k/a Bernice Elain Boyed, a/k/a Katherine Ann Simpson, a/k/a Bernice Maria Gobel, a/k/a Caroline Mitchell, a/k/a Carolyn Mitchell, a/k/a Bonita Schanabel, Respondents.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court

Paul Bardacke, Atty. Gen., Charles H. Rennick, Asst. Atty. Gen., Santa Fe, for petitioner.

Jacquelyn Robins, Chief Public Defender, Lynne Fagan, Appellate Defender, Sheila Lewis, Asst. Appellate Defender, Santa Fe, for respondents.


STOWERS, Justice.

This Court granted a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals decision mandating the awarding of good time credits against sentence to defendants for the period of their confinement in the Bernalillo County Detention Center prior to trial, judgment, and sentencing. The district court denied defendants' motions for good time credits on the grounds that it lacked statutory authority to grant them. After resolving a jurisdictional question, the Court of Appeals held that the granting of good time credits for presentence confinement is constitutionally required. We now reverse the Court of Appeals decision.

This case presents the following issues:

(1) Does the district court have jurisdiction under NMSA 1978, Crim.P.Rule 57.1 (Repl.Pamp.1985), to correct or modify sentences by ordering that defendants be given good time credits against their sentences for the periods they spent in presentence confinement?

(2) In the absence of statutory authorization for such credits, do the equal protection and due process clauses of the New Mexico and United States constitutions, N.M. Const. art. II, Sec. 18; U.S. Const. amend. XIV, Sec. 1, compel the granting of good time credits to defendants for the periods of their presentence confinement, where persons convicted and sentenced are eligible for good time credits for periods served in correctional institutions and county jails pursuant to NMSA 1978, Sections 33-2-34, 33-3-9, and 33-8-14 (Repl.Pamp.1983 & Cum.Supp.1985)?

We hold, first, that the granting of good time credits is an administrative matter for the Corrections Department or the county sheriff or jail administrator, and that Rule 57.1 does not give the district court jurisdiction to entertain a motion for good time credits. We hold, second, that the statutory scheme under which these defendants were denied good time credits for the periods of their presentence confinement does not offend the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process of law. We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals decision, and affirm the district court's denial of these motions.

In three separate cases, defendants Aqui, Sena, and Gobel were arrested on various criminal charges, and bail bond was set as a condition of release. In each case the defendant failed to make bail, and therefore was detained prior to trial in the Bernalillo County Detention Center. Each defendant ultimately pled guilty pursuant to a plea and disposition agreement, and remained in detention until the district court entered judgment and sentence.

The district court gave each defendant credit against his sentence for the period spent in presentence confinement, as is required under NMSA 1978, Section 31-20-12 (Repl.Pamp.1981). Each defendant thereafter filed a Rule 57.1 motion for correction or modification of sentence, seeking in addition good time credits for the period of his presentence confinement. In each case the district court denied the motion, finding that it lacked statutory authority to grant such credits. Defendants appealed, and upon their motion, the Court of Appeals consolidated these three cases for review.

I. Jurisdiction Under Rule 57.1.

Because the Court of Appeals has jurisdiction of direct appeals of postconviction remedies only under Rule 57.1, the defendants characterized their motions for good time credits as motions for the correction or modification of sentence under Rule 57.1(a). In relevant part, that rule provides that "[t]he district court may correct an illegal sentence at any time and may correct a sentence imposed in an illegal manner within * * * [thirty days after the sentence is imposed]." Crim.P.R. 57.1(a).

The Court of Appeals held that because these defendants had not received "illegal sentences," they were not eligible for modification of sentence "at any time." Crim.P.R. 57.1(a). It therefore dismissed the appeal of defendant Gobel, whose motion in the district court had not been timely filed within thirty days of sentencing. Holding that the district court did have jurisdiction to hear the timely motions of defendants Aqui and Sena, the Court of Appeals entertained their appeals on the merits.

We agree with the Court of Appeals that defendants, who received unambiguous sentences within the limits authorized by our sentencing statutes, cannot seek correction of "illegal sentences" under Rule 57.1(a). See State v. Harris, 101 N.M. 12, 14-15, 677 P.2d 625, 627-28 (Ct.App.1984). We disagree with the Court of Appeals implication that two of the defendants can seek, under Rule 57.1(a), correction of sentences imposed in an "illegal manner," for they do not allege procedural deficiencies in their sentencing by the district court.

Unlike mandatory credits under Section 31-20-12, the deduction of good time credits from an inmate's sentence is a discretionary matter entrusted not to the courts but to the administrators of the Corrections Department or the county jails. See Secs. 33-2-34, 33-3-9, 33-8-14; see generally NMSA 1978, Secs. 33-1-1 to 33-10-2 (Repl.Pamp.1983 & Cum.Supp.1985). The computation of good time credits is exclusively an administrative responsibility, and such deductions have no bearing upon the validity of the original sentence imposed by the district court. Cf. Drew v. United States, 248 F.2d 75 (9th Cir.1957) (federal law). Defendants' claims of entitlement to good time credits therefore challenge the execution of their sentences rather than the sentences themselves, and cannot be addressed by Rule 57.1(a) motions for correction of illegal sentences or of sentences imposed in an illegal manner. Cf. United States v. Brown, 753 F.2d 455 (5th Cir.1985); United States v. Giddings, 740 F.2d 770 (9th Cir.1984); Lee v. United States, 400 F.2d 185 (9th Cir.1968) (discussing federal law regarding credits for presentence confinement).

II. Constitutional Claim for Good Time Credits.

Reaching the merits of the case, the Court of Appeals distinguished New Mexico's scheme of good time credits from the New York good time credit law upheld against an equal protection challenge in McGinnis v. Royster, 410 U.S. 263, 93 S.Ct. 1055, 35 L.Ed.2d 282 (1973). The court, however, failed to analyze whether New Mexico's statutory and administrative good time credit scheme comports with the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Instead, relying on Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 103 S.Ct. 2064, 76 L.Ed.2d 221 (1983), the Court of Appeals held that a due process approach was in order, and concluded that "fundamental fairness" demanded that the defendants be given good time credits for the periods of their presentence confinement.

We cannot agree. McGinnis does control here, and under that decision New Mexico's statutory scheme withstands defendants' equal protection challenge. Furthermore, the Court of Appeals reliance upon due process considerations is inappropriate, unconvincing, and unnecessary to the resolution of this appeal. We hold, therefore, that New Mexico's good time credit scheme does not violate the constitutional rights of these defendants.

a. Equal Protection of the Laws.

Subsection 33-2-34(A) provides that "[a]ny inmate confined in the penitentiary * * * may be awarded a deduction of not more than ten days' meritorious good time per month based on good conduct * * * provided that an inmate who disobeys an order to perform labor * * * shall not receive meritorious good time * * *." Section 33-8-14 provides that "[e]very inmate confined * * * and engaged in an enterprise program shall be awarded * * * [not more than twenty days'] industrial good time per month based on work conduct, performance and responsibilities * * *." Furthermore, Subsection 33-2-34(A) provides that any inmate not engaged in an enterprise program but engaged in "approved educational programs or performing facility support services may receive an additional deduction not to exceed five days meritorious good time per month * * *." In addition, any inmate who has performed "exceptionally meritorious service" may be eligible for a lump sum good time award under Subsection 33-2-34(B). Pursuant to its statutory mandate, the Corrections Department has promulgated rules and regulations for the awarding and the forfeiture of various categories of good time credits.

Subsection 33-3-9 provides that "any person imprisoned in the county jail [may be granted] a deduction of time from the term of his sentence for good behavior * * *" by the sheriff or jail administrator of the county, who is authorized to establish rules for the accrual of good time or to grant deductions with the approval of the committing judge. Such deductions may Although the Legislature has authorized the Corrections Department and county sheriffs and jail administrators to award good time credits to inmates convicted and confined in their respective institutions, it has chosen not to authorize the awarding of good time credits to persons detained in the county jails prior to trial, conviction, and sentencing. Because the Legislature has mandated under Section 31-20-12 that presentence detainees be given credit against their final sentences for the periods spent in presentence confinement, defendants argue that in effect they have served a portion of their sentences...

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29 cases
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