State v. Landgraf

Decision Date11 January 1996
Docket NumberNo. 15993,15993
Citation1996 NMCA 24,121 N.M. 445,913 P.2d 252
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Charles LANDGRAF, a/k/a Charles Hargrove, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

BLACK, Judge.

¶1 On July 13, 1992, Charles Landgraf (Defendant) drank some beer after work. Early that evening he drove his sports car south on Highway 70 from Clovis toward Portales. A New Mexico State Police Officer clocked Defendant travelling in excess of 100 miles per hour. A high speed chase ensued covering twenty miles and involving numerous law enforcement personnel. A car with six occupants attempted to turn across Highway 70 and collided with Defendant. Three of the occupants of the other vehicle died and Defendant was charged in a seventeen-count criminal information.

¶2 The jury found Defendant guilty of: three counts of vehicular homicide; three counts of evading and eluding a police officer resulting in death; and possession of under one ounce of marijuana. On appeal, Defendant challenges his convictions, arguing the district court erred in: (1) denying a change of venue; (2) refusing a preemptory juror challenge; (3) admitting challenged testimony; (4) aggravating Defendant's sentences; (5) refusing to allow good-time credit for the period preceding trial; and (6) allowing two manslaughter convictions on each death. We affirm the district court on all but Defendant's last issue and remand for resentencing.

I. Facts

¶3 On July 13, 1992, Defendant and a co-worker went from Clovis to Artesia to check on a construction job. On their return, they drank some beer. Shortly after 8:00 p.m., Defendant decided to drive to Portales to see his girlfriend.

¶4 As Defendant drove his sports car southbound on Highway 70, New Mexico State Police Officer Kevin Boyd was travelling northbound. Officer Boyd clocked Defendant's vehicle at 104 miles per hour. He immediately turned his unit around, engaged his lights and pursued Defendant's car. A deputy sheriff joined the pursuit. The highway between Clovis and Portales is a four-lane highway divided by a median. Before reaching Portales, Defendant's car crossed the median, turned around, and headed back toward Clovis. As he approached the intersection of Highway 70 and Diane Street, Defendant changed lanes. Sheila Perkins was driving a car going toward Portales and made a left turn onto Diane Street. She had five passengers. The two cars collided. Three children who were passengers in the car, Cory Johnson, Dontrel Perkins, and Denny Castro, were killed. Sheila Perkins, Sherry Castro, Andrew Johnson, and Defendant all sustained injuries in the accident. Shortly after the accident, Defendant's blood alcohol concentration was determined to be .13 percent.

5. At trial, Defendant introduced evidence that previously he had suffered spinal and head injuries in an industrial accident. Thereafter, he had massive headaches and had been diagnosed as having a fifty percent whole body impairment. Defendant's trial experts were a neuropsychologist and a psychologist who both testified that these prior head and cervical injuries, combined with the alcohol consumption, made Defendant legally insane on the night of the fatal wreck. The State brought in an expert who disagreed.

6. In addition to the guilty verdicts, the jury found Defendant not guilty on three counts of first degree murder, assault with the intent to commit a violent felony upon an officer, and great bodily injury by motor vehicle.

II. The District Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion in Denying a Change of Venue

7. Prior to trial, Defendant moved for a change of venue and provided the court a random selection survey of local attitudes toward Defendant and the trial. The district court denied Defendant's motion. Recognizing the holding of State v. Chamberlain, 112 N.M. 723, 819 P.2d 673 (1991), Defendant concedes "that the Trial Court has broad discretion in ruling on motions to change venue and the Appellate Courts will not disturb its decision absent a showing of an abuse of that discretion." The burden to show this abuse of discretion lies with the appellant. Id. at 726, 819 P.2d at 676.

8. Defendant cites this Court to no evidence in the record to substantiate his claim that the district court abused its discretion, but argues generally that the survey as well as later voir dire "showed there was extensive knowledge of the case and opinions thereof by the people in the community." Proof of exposure of venire members to publicity about a case does not establish a presumption of prejudice. Id.; see also Deats v. State, 80 N.M. 77, 80, 451 P.2d 981, 984 (1969) (extensive pretrial publicity by itself does not necessarily establish prejudice). Rather, Defendant must prove that the jurors had "such fixed opinions that they could not judge impartially the guilt of the defendant." State v. Hernandez, 115 N.M. 6, 21, 846 P.2d 312, 327 (1993) (punctuation and citation omitted). This he did not do. In short, nothing in Defendant's argument convinces us the district court acted unfairly and committed a palpable abuse of discretion. See State v. Rushing, 85 N.M. 540, 545, 514 P.2d 297, 302 (1973).

III. The District Court Properly Denied Defendant's Peremptory Juror Challenge

9. Several of the accident victims were black and Defendant is not. Defendant argues the district court erred in refusing to honor his peremptory challenge of a black juror. When such a challenge is raised by any party the trial court must engage in a three-step analysis. Purkett v. Elem, --- U.S. ----, ---- - ----, 115 S.Ct. 1769, 1770-71, 131 L.Ed.2d 834 (1995). First, the opponent of a peremptory challenge must make out a prima facie case that the challenge shows racial discrimination. The proponent of the peremptory strike must then come forward with a race-neutral explanation. If such a race-neutral explanation is tendered, the trial court must decide whether the opponent of the peremptory challenge has proved purposeful racial discrimination. Id.

10. Here, the prosecutor made out a prima facie case of racial discrimination. He showed that there were three potential jurors who were black and that Defendant's counsel had already stricken a black woman. The prosecutor then pointed out that defense counsel also struck the juror at issue, a black male. After the prosecutor objected based on this showing, the district court asked defense counsel his reasons for striking the black juror. Defense counsel tendered the race-neutral explanation that he perceived an educational deficit that would likely cause the potential juror to have difficulty understanding Defendant's medical testimony.

11. Based on the tendered explanation, the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding purposeful discrimination. The trial court is not required to accept tendered race-neutral explanations at face value, but should scrutinize them to insure that purposeful discrimination is not taking place. See State v. Guzman, 119 N.M. 190, 194, 889 P.2d 225, 229 (Ct.App.1994) (race-neutral explanations should not be accepted when facts show same factors used to strike Hispanics were not applied to Anglos), cert. denied, 119 N.M. 20, 888 P.2d 466 (1995).

IV. Admissibility of Evidence
A. Testimony Regarding the Accident Scene

12. Defendant argues that because it was never disputed that the accident produced very serious injuries and that heroic efforts were required to extricate the victims from the wreckage, it was error to admit any testimony regarding those subjects. Defendant maintains such evidence was not relevant under SCRA 1986, 11-401 (Repl.1994) (Rule 401) and, even if it was relevant, it should have been excluded as more prejudicial than probative under SCRA 1986, 11-403 (Repl.1994) (Rule 403).

13. As a predicate for depraved mind murder in this case the State had to prove Defendant drove at a high rate of speed, struck the victims, and caused their deaths. The State was also required to prove that Defendant committed an act which was "greatly dangerous to the lives of others, indicating a depraved mind regardless of human life" and that Defendant knew "such acts create[d] a strong probability of death or great bodily harm." NMSA 1978, § 30-2-1 (Repl.Pamp.1994). Evidence showing the natural consequences and actual results of Defendant's actions was admissible as proof of the elements for depraved mind murder. State v. Johnson, 103 N.M. 364, 369, 707 P.2d 1174, 1179 (Ct.App.) ("depraved mind murder is defined primarily by its consequences"), cert. quashed, 103 N.M. 344, 707 P.2d 552 (1985). The extent of the wreck and the heroic efforts required of rescuers to deal with the devastation were offered as proof of the consequences of the charged offense.

14. Evidence is relevant if it has "any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." SCRA 11-401. The havoc caused by Defendant's operation of his vehicle make it more probable such acts were "greatly dangerous to the lives of others." Section 30-2-1(A)(3). The trial court had discretion to determine that the probative value of this evidence was not "substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." SCRA 11-403; see also Chamberlain, 112 N.M. at 726, 819 P.2d at 676.

B. Officers' Testimony

15. Defendant next challenges portions of testimony by police and fire officials involved in the high-speed chase and subsequent rescue. Defendant again relies on Rules 401 and 403 to support his challenge to the trial court's admission of testimony by former Deputy...

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