State v. Holt, 33,090.

Citation352 P.3d 702
Decision Date27 April 2015
Docket NumberNo. 35,298.,33,090.,35,298.
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Anthony HOLT, Defendant–Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, Jacqueline R. Medina, Assistant Attorney General, Albuquerque, NM, for Appellee.

Jorge A. Alvarado, Chief Public Defender, Karl Erich Martell, Assistant Appellate Defender, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellant.

OPINION

BUSTAMANTE, Judge.

{1} Anthony Holt (Defendant) was trying to remove a window screen from Carolyn Stamper's (Stamper) home when he noticed her through the window. Although he turned and left the premises without breaching the window, he was convicted of one count of breaking and entering and now appeals on two grounds. First, he argues that the Legislature did not intend to punish as breaking and entering an intrusion into the space between the screen and the window. Second, he maintains that the evidence was insufficient for the jury to conclude that he in fact entered that space. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

{2} Stamper, a resident of Las Cruces, New Mexico, was relaxing on her sofa one December afternoon when she heard the doorbell ring and a rustling sound at the front door. She did not see anyone through the peephole in the door. She then heard a “metal on metal” sound at the window, which was approximately seven feet from the front door. The window was open approximately four inches because Stamper's “smelly old dog” was in the room with her. The curtains over the window were drawn except for a gap of about four inches. Through the gap, Stamper could see a man at the window who was working to remove the aluminum window screen. The screen was halfway removed from the window and the man was trying to get the screen free of the track at the bottom of the window frame. At trial, Stamper agreed with the State that while holding the screen, the man's “fingers were ... in that area between the window and the screen[.]

{3} After a few seconds, the man looked up and noticed Stamper. He said, “Oh, I'm sorry,” then turned and left. As he was leaving, Stamper told him, “You better be sorry, you thief[.] Stamper testified that the screen “was pretty well destroyed” and had to be replaced. She also testified that she was frightened by the incident and that it “was the first time [she] had been confronted with this in [her] own home.”

{4} A jury convicted Defendant of one count of breaking and entering, contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 30–14–8(A) (1981). Additional facts are provided as necessary to our discussion.

DISCUSSION

{5} Defendant makes two arguments on appeal. First, he argues that the facts of this case do not fit within a breaking and entering charge, because entering the space between a screen and a window is not the same as entering the interior of a home or structure. Second, he argues that the evidence was not sufficient to support a conclusion that Defendant entered the space between the screen and window. We address these arguments in turn.

The Breaking and Entering Statute Encompasses Entry Into the Space Between the Screen and Window

{6} Defendant argues that, even if his fingers were between the screen and the window, he cannot be convicted of breaking and entering. Defendant makes two contentions: (1) the plain language of the breaking and entering statute requires entry into the interior of a structure, i.e., entry beyond the last barrier to the structure's interior; and (2) the breaking and entering statute is ambiguous because it does not define the boundaries of a structure, and thus, under the rule of lenity, must be construed against the State. We interpret these arguments as alternatives because the rule of lenity applies only if, after examination of the plain language and other tools of statutory construction, the statute remains ambiguous. State v. Hall, 2013–NMSC–001, ¶ 19, 294 P.3d 1235 (“A statute is ambiguous for the purpose of the rule of lenity only if reasonable doubt persists about a statute's intended scope even after resort to the language and structure, legislative history, and motivating policies of the statute.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). After examining the statute's language and purpose, as well as cases interpreting it and similar statutes, we conclude that Defendant's conduct falls within that which the Legislature sought to punish. Based on our construction of the statute, we conclude that it is not ambiguous such that the rule of lenity applies. Id. Hence, we need not address Defendant's second argument.

{7} Questions of statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo. State v. Smith, 2004–NMSC–032, ¶ 8, 136 N.M. 372, 98 P.3d 1022. The goal of statutory interpretation is “to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). We begin by examining the “plain language” of the statute and, if that language is clear and unambiguous, we refrain from further construction. State v. Johnson, 2001–NMSC–001, ¶ 6, 130 N.M. 6, 15 P.3d 1233. “The plain meaning rule, however, is only a guideline for determining the legislative intent. It is the responsibility of th[e] Court to search for and effectuate the purpose and object of the underlying statutes.” Id. Thus, [t]he plain meaning rule ‘must yield on occasion to an intention otherwise discerned in terms of equity, legislative history, or other sources.’

Smith, 2004–NMSC–032, ¶ 9, 136 N.M. 372, 98 P.3d 1022 (citation omitted). Finally, statutes relating to the same general topic should be interpreted in light of each other [.] State v. Parvilus, 2014–NMSC–028, ¶ 16, 332 P.3d 281. As discussed in more detail below, we rely on the burglary statute, NMSA 1978, § 30–16–3 (1971), as an aid in our interpretation because of its similarities with the breaking and entering statute.

{8} Section 30–14–8(A) defines “breaking and entering” as

the unauthorized entry of any ... dwelling or other structure, movable or immovable, where entry is obtained by fraud or deception, or by the breaking or dismantling of any part of the ... dwelling or other structure, or by the breaking or dismantling of any device used to secure the ... dwelling or other structure.

{9} As it relates to the facts here, UJI 14–1410 NMRA requires the jury to find that (1) [t]he defendant entered [the structure] without permission” and (2) [t]he entry was obtained by” breaking or dismantling a part of the structure. Unlike in some other states' statutes, neither the breaking and entering statute nor the burglary statute states what delimits a structure. Compare § 30–14–8(A) and § 30–16–3with Ariz.Rev.Stat. Ann. § 13–1501(3) (2012) (defining [e]ntry” as “the intrusion of any part of any instrument or any part of a person's body inside the external boundaries of a structure” (emphasis added)). Nor do they state that entry into any part of a structure will suffice. Compare § 30–14–8(A) and § 30–16–3with Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 30.02(a)(1) (West 2007) (prohibiting entry of a building “or any portion of a building”). In State v. Office of Public Defender ex rel. Muqqddin, the Supreme Court relied on the absence of such language in the burglary statute to reject the idea that entry into a part of a structure is equivalent to entry into the structure itself, stating that “the Legislature has given no indication that it intended [such equivalency].” 2012–NMSC–029, ¶ 38, 285 P.3d 622. While the breaking and entering statute provides that a breaking may be accomplished by “breaking or dismantling any part of the ... dwelling or other structure,” the phrase “any part of” pertains only to breaking or dismantling, not to the protected spaces. Section 30–14–8(A) ; see Hale v. Basin Motor Co., 1990–NMSC–068, ¶ 9, 110 N.M. 314, 795 P.2d 1006 (“Relative and qualifying words, phrases, and clauses are to be applied to the words or phrase immediately preceding, and are not to be construed as extending to or including others more remote.” (alterations, internal quotation marks, and citation omitted)). We conclude that the plain language of the breaking and entering statute sheds little light on the Legislature's intent as to the issue before us: whether the space between a window screen and an open window is protected space under the statute.

{10} We next examine the purposes of the breaking and entering statute to determine whether the conduct here falls within the harm the Legislature sought to prevent. Because “New Mexico's breaking-and-entering statute is itself grounded in common law burglary[,] cases interpreting the burglary statute inform our analysis. State v. Rubio, 1999–NMCA–018, ¶ 13, 126 N.M. 579, 973 P.2d 256 ; see UJI 14–1410, comm. cmt. (“New Mexico's breaking and entering statute is a type of statutory burglary.”). Like burglary, “the purpose of New Mexico's breaking-and-entering statute is ... to protect possessory rights.” Rubio, 1999–NMCA–018, ¶ 15, 126 N.M. 579, 973 P.2d 256 ; Muqqddin, 2012–NMSC–029, ¶ 40, 285 P.3d 622 (stating that burglary protects possessory rights). Those possessory rights, however, “go beyond the mere right to physical possession of an object” and include the right to exclude, privacy interests, and “security of habitation.” Muqqddin, 2012–NMSC–029, ¶ ¶ 40–43, 285 P.3d 622. “It is the invasion of privacy and the victim's feeling of being personally violated that is the harm caused by the modern burglar, and the evil that our society is attempting to deter through modern burglary statutes.” Id. ¶ 42.

{11} [I]n order for an area to be considered prohibited space under [the burglary statute], it must have some sort of enclosure.” Id. ¶ 44 (citing State v. Foulenfont, 1995–NMCA–028, ¶¶ 10–11, 119 N.M. 788, 895 P.2d 1329 ). [I]t is this enclosed space that the Legislature intended to protect.” Id. The burglary statute defines prohibited space as “any vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, dwelling or other structure, movable or immovable [.]...

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    ...Dist. Ct. App. 1996). As some courts have noted, "[i]t is the nature of the enclosure that creates [prohibited space]." State v. Holt, 352 P.3d 702, 706 (N.M. Ct. App.) (citation omitted), cert. granted, ___ P.3d ___ (N.M. Ct. App. 2015). See People v. Valencia, 46 P.3d 920, 925 (Cal. 2002)......
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