State v. Garcia

Decision Date10 August 1992
Docket NumberNo. 19806,19806
Citation837 P.2d 862,114 N.M. 269,1992 NMSC 48
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. David L. GARCIA, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court


According to a leading authority on the law of criminal homicide in New Mexico,

No New Mexico case reviewing a deliberate intention first degree murder conviction has ever held that the evidence did not support a deliberate murder but instead supported no more than a nondeliberate or impulsive second degree murder.

Leo M. Romero, A Critique of the Willful, Deliberate, and Premeditated Formula for Distinguishing Between First and Second Degree Murder in New Mexico, 18 N.M.L.Rev. 73, 84 (1988).

This case fills that gap.


David Garcia was convicted of first degree murder by the District Court of Curry County on January 30, 1991. The conviction arose out of the stabbing death of Ray Gutierrez on April 27, 1990, in Clovis, New Mexico.

Garcia and Gutierrez apparently had been friends or acquaintances for some time before April 27, 1990. Around noon that day, Garcia, Gutierrez, and two other friends purchased some beer and whiskey and went to drink it at the house of Julian Hidalgo, where several other people had gathered and were having a party. Garcia had been drinking beer throughout the morning and the night before. The two friends who accompanied Garcia and Gutierrez were Clara Pelland, Gutierrez's girlfriend, and Maria Delgado.

After the four arrived at Hidalgo's house, they went into the back yard, and Garcia and Gutierrez began arguing. The argument concerned an incident that had occurred about a month earlier, when Garcia had kicked Pelland. Apparently, Gutierrez was still angry about the incident; at any rate, Pelland had remarked earlier in the day that there was likely to be trouble between Garcia and Gutierrez.

In Hidalgo's back yard, Garcia and Gutierrez argued for a while, then appeared to make up, then resumed arguing. According to Pelland's testimony at the trial, Delgado started the second argument and told the two men that they should "take it [their argument] to the street." At this point, Pelland heard Garcia say, "Remove Ray away from me or you're not going to be seeing him for the rest of the day." Garcia and Gutierrez apparently made up a second time and went to the corner of the back yard. Pelland testified that about five minutes later she realized that Garcia and Gutierrez were no longer in the back yard. When she asked where the two men had gone, Delgado told her they had gone to the front yard.

Pelland testified that she then tried to go to the front yard, but that a man blocked her way. She struggled with him for five or ten minutes before she finally got to the front yard. When she arrived in the front yard, she saw Garcia jabbing Gutierrez in the chest with a knife, and she saw Gutierrez fall down. Gutierrez's face was "all sliced up." She grabbed Gutierrez and shouted at Garcia, "Look what you did to my boyfriend." Garcia replied, "I'm going to mess you up like I messed up your boyfriend. I'll be seeing you soon." Pelland replied, "Come on, I'm right here. Go for it." Garcia responded, "No, your day will be coming soon."

Another witness at the trial, ten-year-old Chloe Goode, testified that when she first saw Garcia and Gutierrez, they were shaking hands in the back yard. Later, she saw them arguing and punching each other in the front yard. She said she saw Garcia grab Gutierrez and shove him against the wall. She testified that she only saw Garcia hitting Gutierrez; she did not see the actual stabbing.

The stabbing occurred at approximately 3:30 p.m. on April 27. Pelland testified that she saw Garcia drink at least ten beers and three shots of whiskey that afternoon.

After the stabbing, Officer Reeves arrived to investigate the incident. He determined that Garcia was a suspect and began to search for him. Officer Reeves went to a house on Pinon Street and asked if anyone there had seen Garcia. The people at the house said they had not seen him. However, Officer Reeves later realized, he testified, that one of the men who denied having seen Garcia was Garcia himself.

Approximately seven hours after the stabbing, at about 10:30 p.m., Officer Miller received a call that Garcia was at his parents' home and that he was voluntarily turning himself in. When Officer Miller arrived at the residence, he told Garcia to come out of the house. Garcia then stepped outside and said, "I did it. I did it. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I told my brother I did him and I'd do him again."

On June 8, 1990, the State charged Garcia with an open count of murder. Before trial, defense counsel moved for a forensic examination to evaluate Garcia's mental condition. The court granted the motion and set the case for trial. Then, two days before the trial was to begin, defense counsel moved for a continuance so that a neurological evaluation could be performed on Garcia. The trial court denied the motion and the case proceeded to trial.

At the close of the State's case, Garcia moved for a directed verdict, arguing that the State had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Garcia had the specific intent to commit first degree murder. The court denied the motion. The court then instructed the jury on first degree murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and battery. The court also instructed the jury on sufficient provocation and inability to form intent because of intoxication. The jury found Garcia guilty of first degree murder, and he was sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment.1

Garcia raises two arguments on appeal. First, he asserts that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of first degree murder and that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict. Second, he argues that the trial court, in denying his motion for a continuance for a neurological evaluation, deprived him of his fifth amendment right to present a defense.

We agree that the evidence was not sufficient to permit the jury to find that Garcia was guilty of first degree murder. There was no evidence enabling the jury to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant had the requisite state of mind--a "willful, deliberate and premeditated" intention to kill Gutierrez--to support a conviction of first degree murder. This holding makes it unnecessary to consider Garcia's second argument on appeal. That argument asserts that the requested neurological evaluation would have tended to establish that Garcia was incapable of forming the specific intent to commit first degree murder. See State v. Privett, 104 N.M. 79, 80, 717 P.2d 55, 56 (1986) (specific, deliberate intent to kill is an essential element of first degree murder). Since we hold that the evidence was insufficient to permit a finding of the requisite specific intent, and since Garcia's requested neurological evaluation would have been irrelevant to the charge of second degree murder, we need not reach the issue of whether the court erred in refusing to grant Garcia's motion for a continuance. See State v. Beach, 102 N.M. 642, 644-45, 699 P.2d 115, 117-18 (1985) (second degree murder is not a specific intent crime; diminished capacity is not a defense to charge of second degree murder).

For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment below and remand for a new trial on the offenses of second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.


In New Mexico, first degree murder is defined as "any kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing." NMSA 1978, Sec. 30-2-1(A)(1) (Repl.Pamp.1984).2 The courts of this state have construed this definition to mean "a killing with the deliberate intention to take away the life of another." Romero, supra at 83 (citing, inter alia, State v. Valenzuela, 90 N.M. 25, 30, 559 P.2d 402, 407 (1976); State v. Vigil, 87 N.M. 345, 350, 533 P.2d 578, 583 (1975); State v. Aragon, 85 N.M. 401, 403, 512 P.2d 974, 976 (Ct.App.1973)). The statute itself does not define "deliberate intention." However, our Uniform Jury Instructions for Criminal Cases (UJI Crim.) define "deliberate" as

arrived at or determined upon as a result of careful thought and the weighing of the consideration for and against the proposed course of action. A calculated judgment and decision may be arrived at in a short period of time. A mere unconsidered and rash impulse, even though it includes an intent to kill, is not a deliberate intention to kill. To constitute a deliberate killing, the slayer must weigh and consider the question of killing and his reasons for and against such a choice.

SCRA 1986, 14-201.3 The court gave this instruction in this case.

Although our courts have agreed on the meaning of first degree murder, and although this Court has promulgated a uniform jury instruction defining in some detail the meaning of "deliberate," we (the appellate courts) probably have not been especially helpful in distinguishing first degree murder from second degree murder. See Romero, supra at 73, 77, 84-86. As Dean Romero suggests, "Without guidance with respect to the types of evidence that will support a deliberate murder, virtually all intentional killings will result in jury instructions on first degree murder and the jury will be left to apply its own conception of what deliberate intention means." Id. at 86.

There is no question that the distinction between first degree murder and second degree murder is of great importance to the administration of criminal justice in New Mexico--to say nothing of its importance to a defendant who stands accused, as Garcia did, under an "open" charge of murder. The distinction differentiates between those killings that are the most heinous and reprehensible, and...

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