State v. Garza

Decision Date25 June 2009
Docket NumberNo. 30,715.,30,715.
Citation2009 NMSC 038,212 P.3d 387
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Petitioner, v. Frank O. GARZA, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court

MAES, Justice.

{1} In this Opinion we review our speedy trial jurisprudence and abolish the presumption that a defendant's right to a speedy trial has been violated based solely on the threshold determination that the length of delay is "presumptively prejudicial." Because Defendant has not shown any particularized prejudice that is cognizable under the constitutional right to a speedy trial and the weight of the other factors in the analysis do not overcome Defendant's failure to show prejudice, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and affirm Defendant's conviction and sentence.

{2} Though inapplicable in the present case, we also update our guidelines for determining the length of delay necessary to trigger the speedy trial inquiry to twelve months for simple cases, fifteen months for cases of intermediate complexity, and eighteen months for complex cases. We emphasize that these guidelines are merely thresholds that warrant further inquiry into a defendant's claimed speedy trial violation and should not be construed as bright-line tests dispositive of the claim itself.


{3} Frank O. Garza (Defendant) was arrested late on June 28, 2006 for aggravated DWI and failure to maintain a traffic lane. The State filed a criminal complaint in magistrate court on June 29, 2006, and Defendant was released on the same day. The total amount of time Defendant spent in jail was two hours, from 2:35 a.m. to 4:24 a.m.

{4} The case remained in magistrate court, without apparent progress toward a trial, for four months. On November 2, 2006, the State refiled the charges in the Third Judicial District Court and the following day dismissed the case without prejudice. Defendant made his first and only speedy trial demand on November 13, 2006 as part of his waiver of arraignment and plea of not guilty.

{5} In the Third Judicial District Court, the case initially was assigned to Judge Bridgforth, but the case was reassigned and the trial date set and reset several times. The case was reassigned to Judge Murphy on January 19, 2007 and trial was set for March 8, 2007. Judge Murphy recused himself on February 8, 2007 and the case was reassigned to Judge Driggers. The trial was reset for April 27, 2007 before Judge Driggers. That trial date was vacated because the case was reassigned, once again to Judge Bridgforth, on February 22, 2007. Finally, the trial was set for May 4, 2007 before Judge Bridgforth.

{6} Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on April 26, 2007, claiming that his right to a speedy trial had been violated. The district court denied the motion, finding, in pertinent part,

that a four month delay in Magistrate Court before removal to District Court weighs against the State. This is a simple case and the additional delay, even if it is sometimes the Courts' own heavy trial docket, weighs slightly against the State. The case is now just past nine months which triggers the presumption of prejudice. Defendant has asserted his right to speedy trial. Defendant has suffered some actual prejudice in the form of restrictions imposed by pre-trial conditions of release and stress, but the Court feels this is not unusually great and weighs slightly against the State.

Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea on May 4, 2007 to aggravated DWI, contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 66-8-102(D)(1) (2005, prior to amendments through 2008), and failure to maintain a traffic lane, contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 66-7-317, reserving the right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss based on a violation of his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

{7} The Court of Appeals reversed the district court in a memorandum opinion, which held that the ten-month and six-day delay, between Defendant's arrest and the final trial setting, violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial. State v. Garza, No. 27,731, slip op. at 2 (N.M.Ct.App. Oct. 5, 2007). The Court's opinion relied on the "presumption of prejudice" created by the delay, stating that "[e]ven though Defendant had just barely passed the nine-month threshold for triggering the presumption of prejudice, application of the remaining factors did not rebut this presumption." Id. The Court concluded, "Because the factual findings in this case tip all of the four factors in favor of Defendant, we do not believe that it is necessary to engage in an in-depth balancing that might occur when one or more factors weigh against a defendant. Accordingly, we reverse." Id. at 3.

{8} We granted the State's petition for writ of certiorari, which raises one issue: whether the Court of Appeals erred by holding that Defendant's right to a speedy trial was violated because the Court essentially applied a bright-line rule that nine months was the maximum length of delay permissible for a simple case. We also asked the Office of the Public Defender to file an amicus brief, addressing the issue of whether we should change the current guidelines for determining when the length of delay becomes "presumptively prejudicial," and we permitted the State to respond to that issue. Because we conclude that our holding on this latter issue does not apply to the present case, we address it separately.


{9} The State claims that the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that Defendant's right to a speedy trial was violated by a ten-month and six-day delay. The State argues that "[t]he Court of Appeals' analysis is most at fault in its treatment of prejudice and presumed prejudice," because "[i]f a delay of one month over the presumptively prejudicial minimum — together with common bond restrictions — were sufficient, the Barker test would become essentially a bright-line rule." We agree with the State that, in cases such as the present one in which all of the factors from Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972), appear to weigh neutrally or minimally in the defendant's favor, the threshold determination of "presumptively prejudicial" delay may become essentially a bright-line rule. Because we perceive this result as contrary to the purpose of the speedy trial right, we undertake a review of our speedy trial case law and attempt to clarify its application.

A. Purpose of the Speedy Trial Right

{10} The right to a speedy trial is a fundamental right of the accused. Barker, 407 U.S. at 515, 92 S.Ct. 2182. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 222-23, 87 S.Ct. 988, 18 L.Ed.2d 1 (1967), provides:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

U.S. Const. amend. VI; see also N.M. Const. art. II, § 14.1

{11} The speedy trial right, however, escapes precise definition. "The speedy-trial right is `amorphous,' `slippery,' and `necessarily relative.'" Vermont v. Brillon, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1283, 1290, 173 L.Ed.2d 231 (2009) (citation omitted). "It is consistent with delays and depends upon circumstances. It secures rights to a defendant. It does not preclude the rights of public justice." Barker, 407 U.S. at 522, 92 S.Ct. 2182 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Though speed is an important attribute of the right, "[i]f either party is forced to trial without a fair opportunity for preparation, justice is sacrificed to speed." Frankel v. Woodrough, 7 F.2d 796, 798 (8th Cir.1925). As the United States Supreme Court stated in Barker, "It is ... impossible to determine with precision when the right has been denied. We cannot definitely say how long is too long in a system where justice is supposed to be swift but deliberate." Barker, 407 U.S. at 521, 92 S.Ct. 2182. Therefore, the substance of the speedy trial right is defined only through an analysis of the peculiar facts and circumstances of each case.

{12} Barker recognized that the right to a speedy trial is "generically different from any of the other rights enshrined in the Constitution for the protection of the accused," because there is a societal interest in bringing an accused to trial. Id. at 519, 92 S.Ct. 2182. However, "[t]he Bill of Rights ... does not speak of the rights and interests of the government." Richard Uviller, Barker v. Wingo: Speedy Trial Gets a Fast Shuffle, 72 Colum. L.Rev. 1376, 1378 (1972); see 5 Wayne R. LaFave et al., Criminal Procedure § 18.1(b) (3d ed. 2007) ("[I]t is rather misleading to say ... that this `societal interest' is somehow part of the right."). The heart of the right to a speedy trial is preventing prejudice to the accused.

[T]his constitutional guarantee has universally been thought essential to protect at least three basic demands of criminal justice in the Anglo-American legal system: (1) to prevent undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial, (2) to minimize anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation and (...

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