State v. Gonzales

Decision Date23 December 2019
Docket NumberNo. A-1-CA-36059,A-1-CA-36059
Citation461 P.3d 920
Parties STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. John R. GONZALES, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, M. Victoria Wilson, Assistant Attorney General, Albuquerque, NM, for Appellee

Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender, MJ Edge, Assistant Appellate Defender, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellant


{1} Defendant John Gonzales appeals his convictions for resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer, contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 30-22-1(D) (1981) ; aggravated driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs (DWI), contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 66-8-102(D)(1) (2010, amended 2016) ; careless driving, contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 66-8-113 (1987) ; and possession of an open container, contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 66-8-138 (2013). Defendant raises two issues on appeal: (1) the denial of his motion for a mistrial after the State questioned him about plea negotiations in front of the jury and (2) he was the subject of a pretextual stop. We reverse and remand for a new trial.


{2} The testimony at trial revealed the following facts. A husband and wife were driving home one afternoon when they saw an unfamiliar car driven by Defendant pull in and out of their driveway. As Defendant pulled out, he almost struck the couple’s vehicle and fence before driving away. The couple followed Defendant and saw him pull in and out of another driveway. As Defendant drove away, the couple had to swerve in order to avoid being struck by him, causing a nearby truck to drive onto a railroad tie. A few minutes later, Defendant returned and pulled back into the same driveway from which he had just pulled out, at which point Officer Caleb Martin arrived in response to a report of a reckless driver.

{3} When Officer Martin made contact with Defendant, who was still sitting in the vehicle, he immediately smelled a strong odor of alcohol emanating from Defendant and noticed Defendant had bloodshot, watery eyes. Once Defendant opened the door, he almost fell out of the vehicle. Officer Martin eventually placed Defendant under arrest for DWI. Additionally, when Officer Martin reached in to turn off the ignition and secure Defendant’s vehicle, he noticed a nearly empty pint of whiskey on the passenger seat. Officer Martin drove Defendant to the police station, and as he was escorting Defendant inside, Defendant pulled away, resulting in Officer Martin pinning him against the wall. Inside the station, Officer Martin asked Defendant if he would submit to a breath or blood test and interpreted Defendant’s lack of response as a refusal.

{4} Defendant testified in his defense. On direct examination, Defendant testified that he stopped at a store on his way home and purchased a bottle of whiskey. Once home, Defendant entered his house, retrieved a soda with a cup of ice and returned to his vehicle, where he sat and listened to music until Officer Martin arrived. Defendant denied that he almost fell down or that he resisted arrest, and further testified that he offered to provide a breath, blood, or urine sample.

{5} During the State’s cross examination of Defendant, the following colloquy took place:

Q. Mr. Gonzales, you realize certain things can happen in this case, right, if you get convicted, you are looking at jail time, right?1
A. Yes, if I did something wrong but I never did anything wrong. You have to break the law before you can get[—]
Q. Yeah.
A. I haven’t broke any laws. I can’t see where he got me on reckless driving when I never drove my car in the manner of under the influence. ... If I would have done wrong, I would have accepted the guilty plea like in the past. But how can you plea to something you didn’t do[?] I don’t think you would do that. I’m sorry but if you do nothing wrong, how can you plea to that? How can you accept that? You have to do something wrong before you—

The district court interjected, "There is no question pending, Mr. Gonzales. Wait until there is a question, okay." The cross examination continued:

Q. Mr. Gonzales, you just made a statement that you would never plea to something like this?
A. Would you please repeat the question?
Q. You would never plea to something that you didn’t do, right?
A. Well you can’t.
Q. Isn’t it true that this morning you wanted to plea this case out?

Immediately following the State’s question, defense counsel objected, stating, "That is clearly inadmissible," and moved for a mistrial. In response, the State argued that Defendant "opened the door[.]" After a brief bench conference, the district court sustained defense counsel’s objection but denied her motion for a mistrial and instructed the jury "to disregard the last statements of the witness about any possible negotiations that may have occurred in this case[.]"

{6} At the conclusion of trial, Defendant was found guilty of: (1) resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer; (2) aggravated DWI; (3) careless driving; and (4) possession of an open container. This appeal followed.

I. Evidence of Defendant’s Plea Attempt Was Not Admissible
A. Standard of Review

{7} We review the denial of a motion for a mistrial for an abuse of discretion. State v. Hernandez , 2017-NMCA-020, ¶ 14, 388 P.3d 1016. "The district court abuses its discretion in ruling on a motion for mistrial if it acts in an obviously erroneous, arbitrary, or unwarranted manner, or when the decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In determining whether the district court abused its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion for a mistrial, we must address whether the State’s question about plea negotiations violated Rule 11-410 NMRA, and if so, whether it could be cured by the district court’s admonition. See Hernandez , 2017-NMCA-020, ¶ 14, 388 P.3d 1016. We begin by turning to the rule generally prohibiting the introduction of plea negotiations at trial and the policy supporting that prohibition.

B. Rule 11-410 and Supporting Policy

{8} Under Rule 11-410(A)(5), evidence of "a statement made during plea discussions with an attorney for the prosecuting authority if the discussions did not result in a guilty plea or resulted in a later-withdrawn guilty plea" are not admissible "against the defendant who made the plea or participated in plea discussions[.]"2 Rule 11-410 also applies to evidence of the offer itself. See State v. Smile , 2009-NMCA-064, ¶ 41, 146 N.M. 525, 212 P.3d 413 (observing that " Rule 11-410 applies to ... evidence of an offer to plead guilty and statements made in connection with the offer"). "The only exceptions provided by Rule 11-410 are where another statement made during the same plea or plea discussions has been introduced, if in fairness both statements ought to be considered together and in a criminal proceeding for perjury or false statement." Kipnis v. Jusbasche , 2017-NMSC-006, ¶ 1, 388 P.3d 654 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see Rule 11-410(B)(1). The State does not argue that either of the listed exceptions apply in the instant case.

{9} There are important policy considerations for Rule 11-410 ’s general prohibition against the admission of evidence relating to plea negotiations. "Like the federal counterpart rule from which the [state] rule was taken, the rule is meant to promote the efficient disposition of criminal cases because collateral use of pleas, as admissions of party-opponents under Rule 11-801 NMRA or as other evidentiary implications of guilt, would discourage resolution of criminal proceedings." Kipnis , 2017-NMSC-006, ¶ 1, 388 P.3d 654. "Rule [11-]410 embodies the public interest in encouraging negotiations concerning pleas between the criminal defendant and the [s]tate. Guilty pleas are an essential part of our criminal justice system, and candor in plea discussions aids greatly in the reaching of agreements between the defendant and the [s]tate." State v. Trujillo , 1980-NMSC-004, ¶ 18, 93 N.M. 724, 605 P.2d 232.

{10} Our Supreme Court expounded upon the importance of the role of plea bargaining in Trujillo by acknowledging:

The negotiated guilty plea serves important functions. The quality of justice in all cases would suffer if overloaded courts were faced with a great increase in the number of trials. Tremendous investments of time, talent, and money, all of which are in short supply and can be better used elsewhere, would be necessary if all cases were tried.

Id. (omission, internal quotation marks, and citation omitted). In light of these important policy considerations, the Court in Trujillo determined that " Rule 11-410 ‘clos[ed] the door on the admissibility of [statements surrounding plea negotiations] as evidence at trial for either substantive or impeachment purposes’ and that ‘a weighing of conflicting policies demonstrates that the balance is tipped in favor of interpreting Rule [11-]410 as the cloak of privilege around plea negotiation discussions.’ " Kipnis , 2017-NMSC-006, ¶ 14, 388 P.3d 654 (first and second alterations in original) (quoting Trujillo , 1980-NMSC-004, ¶¶ 19, 21, 605 P.2d 232 ). Our Supreme Court has also indicated that Rule 11-410 acts as a categorical rule of exclusion, noting that, unlike surrounding evidentiary rules, Rule 11-410 "contains no language which limits its exclusionary effect." Kipnis , 2017-NMSC-006, ¶ 13, 388 P.3d 654 (quoting Trujillo , 1980-NMSC-004, ¶ 17, 605 P.2d 232 ). Compare Rule 11-410, with Rule 11-409 NMRA (providing that evidence of offers to pay medical expenses "is not admissible to prove liability for the injury " (emphasis added)), and Rule 11-411 NMRA (providing that evidence of a person’s liability insurance, or lack thereof, "is not admissible to prove that the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully " (emphasis added)). Moreover, in doing so, our Supreme Court has paid...

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3 cases
  • State v. Antonio M.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • March 17, 2022
    ...presented at the first trial to determine whether it was sufficient to warrant a second trial."); State v. Gonzales , 2020-NMCA-022, ¶ 22, 461 P.3d 920 (same). Child argues that absent the improper, suggestive in-court identifications and hearsay statements about the drug deal and robbery, ......
  • Martinez v. Martinez
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    • March 17, 2022
    ...2007-NMCA-077, ¶ 34, 142 N.M. 32, 162 P.3d 187; State v. Tollardo, 2012-NMSC-008, 275 P.3d 110; State v. Gonzales, 2020-NMCA-022, ¶ 22, 461 P.3d 920, 929-30 (holding that retrial of defendant on charges of aggravated DWI, resisting or evading, and careless driving does not violate double je......
  • State v. Heh
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • January 6, 2021
    ...presented at the first trial to determine whether it was sufficient to warrant a second trial."); State v. Gonzales, 2020-NMCA-022, ¶ 22, 461 P.3d 920 (same). Defendant argues that because the State presented no evidence that the screwdriver used as the basis for the charge of possession of......

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