State v. Holt

Citation368 P.3d 409
Decision Date25 February 2016
Docket NumberNo. S–1–SC–35298.,S–1–SC–35298.
Parties STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff–Respondent, v. Anthony HOLT, Defendant–Petitioner.
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico

Robert E. Tangora, L.L.C. Robert E. Tangora, Santa Fe, NM, for Petitioner.

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



, Justice.

{1} Anthony Holt had partially removed a window screen from a residential dwelling when he was detected by the homeowner and fled. In the process of removing the screen, he placed his fingers behind the screen and inside the outer boundary of the home. Holt was subsequently arrested and charged with breaking and entering, in violation of NMSA 1978, Section 30–14–8 (1981)

. An "unauthorized entry" is an essential element of this offense. Section 30–14–8(A). We must decide whether Holt's conduct constitutes an "entry." It does. Accordingly, we affirm Holt's conviction. While we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, we issue this opinion to clarify the appropriate analysis for resolution of the issue presented.


{2} We view the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the verdict. State v. Treadway, 2006–NMSC–008, ¶ 7, 139 N.M. 167, 130 P.3d 746

. So viewed, on the afternoon of December 19, 2010, Carolyn Stamper was home alone when she heard the doorbell ring. She was not expecting company. Shortly after the unanticipated ring, she heard some "wrestling at the front door." She moved slowly towards the door and peeped through the peephole in the front door. She saw no one.

{3} Stamper then heard a noise emanating from the living-room window which was about seven feet away from her position. The sound was like "metal on metal" or a cat "clawing at the screen." She walked towards the window. The curtain was closed, but not completely; there was a gap about four inches wide. The window was open, raised from the bottom, also about four inches. Between the curtains, Stamper observed a man, later identified as Holt, removing the screen from her window. Stamper testified that Holt

had the screen halfway off the window, and he had his hand on each side of the screen, and he was twisting it and turning it and looking down. He was looking down at the bottom part of the screen. He was trying to get the screen off. It wasn't completely off, but it was bent out away from the house and he was working the screen like this.

Upon further questioning, Stamper clarified that Holt's fingers were over the screen and the palms of his hands were at its edges. He had pulled the screen out of its track "and bent it about maybe half way down." It was crooked at the top where Holt had "worked" it, but it was still in the groove at the bottom. As a result of Holt's conduct, the screen was "pretty well destroyed."

{4} Because Holt's attention was focused downward, he did not initially see Stamper. At some point, however, he looked up and saw her. Their faces were only about two and a half feet apart. When Holt saw Stamper watching him, his "eyes bugged out." He said "Oh, I'm sorry," and then promptly fled.

{5} Holt was arrested and charged by an amended indictment with breaking and entering. At trial, after the State rested, Holt moved for a directed verdict. He argued that no entry had occurred because he was interrupted by Stamper and "never did get inside." The district court denied the motion, finding that the State had presented sufficient evidence to proceed. Holt presented no evidence.

{6} The jury found Holt guilty of breaking and entering. He was sentenced to five years and six months—eighteen months for the breaking-and-entering violation and a four-year habitual-offender enhancement—followed by one year of parole.

{7} Holt appealed to this Court. He argued that the district court incorrectly construed the term "entry" in Section 30–14–8(A)

and claimed that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction because he had attempted only to remove the window screen and had not entered Stamper's residence. The Court of Appeals affirmed Holt's conviction in a divided opinion. State v. Holt, 2015–NMCA–073, 352 P.3d 702, cert. granted, 2015–NMCERT– –––– (No. 35,298, June 19, 2015). We granted Holt's petition for a writ of certiorari—exercising our jurisdiction under Article VI, Section 3 of the New Mexico Constitution and NMSA 1978, Section 34–5–14(B) (1972)—to decide whether Holt entered Stamper's residence, for purposes of New Mexico's breaking and entering statute, by placing his fingers behind a window screen and beyond the outer boundary of Stamper's home.


{8} Holt contends that only penetration of an interior protected space, not the outermost plane of a structure, constitutes an "entry" for purposes of the breaking-and-entering statute. The space between a screen and window, he argues, is not interior space. Thus, he claims that his conduct did not constitute an "entry" for purposes of Section 30–14–8(A)

. Based on his interpretation of the statute, Holt argues that there was insufficient evidence presented to support the conviction. The State responds that the Legislature did indeed intend penetration of a window screen to constitute an "entry" under Section 30–14–8(A) because a window screen forms the outer barrier of a structure and people reasonably rely on window screens to protect their possessory rights. Accordingly, the State contends that the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction.

A. Standard of Review

{9} Whether Holt's conduct constituted an "entry" for purposes of Section 30–14–8(A)

is a question of statutory construction this Court reviews de novo. State v. Nick R., 2009–NMSC–050, ¶ 11, 147 N.M. 182, 218 P.3d 868 (citation omitted).

B. Definition of "entry" in Section 30–14–8(A)

{10} The primary goal in construing a statute is to "ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature." State v. Tafoya, 2010–NMSC–019, ¶ 10, 148 N.M. 391, 237 P.3d 693

(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

{11} Section 30–14–8(A)

provides as follows:

Breaking and entering consists of the unauthorized entry of any vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, 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 vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, dwelling or other structure, or by the breaking or dismantling of any device used to secure the vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, dwelling or other structure.

{12} It is well-settled that words in a statute take their ordinary meaning absent legislative intent to the contrary. State ex rel. Maloney v. Sierra, 1970–NMSC–144, ¶ 42, 82 N.M. 125, 477 P.2d 301

. The term "entry" is not defined in Section 30–14–8. The first question we must decide, then, is whether the ordinary meaning of "entry" resolves the statutory interpretation question before us. As described below, ascribing the term "entry" its ordinary meaning does not dispose of this case.

{13} According to one commonly used dictionary, "entry" is "[t]he action of coming or going in." V The Oxford English Dictionary 308 (2d ed.1991). Another dictionary defines "entry" as "[t]he act or an instance of entering." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 596 (5th ed.2011). A leading legal dictionary defines "entry" as "[t]he act, right, or privilege of entering real property." Entry, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed.2014). All of these definitions give rise to additional and redundant definitional questions: if "entry" is going "in," what is "in"? To state that "entry" is "entering" is no help at all. Additionally, how does one define the boundaries of the space entered? Assuming we can discern what entering is, and "entry" is entering real property, where does the real property begin or end?

{14} We cannot rely on the ordinary usage of the term "entry" to resolve the instant issue of statutory interpretation. The majority opinion of the Court of Appeals appears to have understood this and appropriately concluded that it was necessary to look to the purpose of the breaking-and-entering statute to fashion a functional definition of the term "entry." Holt, 2015–NMCA–073, ¶ 9, 352 P.3d 702

. The majority opinion framed the issue as "whether the space between a window screen and an open window is protected space under the statute." Id. This framing of the issue is problematic. It suggests that the space between the screen and the window is a separate and independent dimension of space apart from the further interior space that comprises Stamper's residence. The issue is more straightforward: did Holt's conduct constitute entry into Stamper's residence? To resolve this question we must determine where the boundaries of the home begin and end, and the purposes underlying the breaking-and-entering statute are our guide. See State v. Rivera, 2004–NMSC–001, ¶ 12, 134 N.M. 768, 82 P.3d 939 ("Application of the plain meaning rule often does not end the 2 analysis when construing a statute. Rather, the rule is a tool used by courts during the course of seeking and effectuating the legislative intent underlying the statute." (citation omitted)); State ex rel. Helman v. Gallegos, 1994–NMSC–023, ¶ 23, 117 N.M. 346, 871 P.2d 1352 ("[Where] one or more provisions giv[e] rise to genuine uncertainty as to what the legislature was trying to accomplish ... it is part of the essence of judicial responsibility to search for and effectuate the legislative intent—the purpose or object—underlying the statute.").

{15} "New Mexico's breaking-and-entering statute is itself grounded in common law burglary." State v. Rubio, 1999–NMCA–018, ¶ 13, 126 N.M. 579, 973 P.2d 256

(" ‘New Mexico's breaking and entering statute is a type of statutory burglary.’ " (quoting UJI 14–1410 NMRA committee commentary)). As such, we look to our treatment of the burglary statute to discern the purposes behind the enactment of the breaking-and-entering statute.

{16} Our burglary statute...

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