State v. Rivera

Decision Date02 December 2003
Docket NumberNo. 27,952.,27,952.
Citation2004 NMSC 1,134 N.M. 768,82 P.3d 939
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Petitioner, v. Ignacio RIVERA, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court

Patricia A. Madrid, Attorney General, Joel Jacobsen, Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, for Petitioner.

John Bigelow, Chief Public Defender, William A. O'Connell, Assistant Appellate Defender, Santa Fe, NM, for Respondent.


MINZNER, Justice.

{1} The State petitioned this Court to review an opinion of the Court of Appeals, which held that the district court lacked jurisdiction to act upon the State's petition to revoke Defendant's probation while his appeal from the underlying conviction was pending. See State v. Rivera, 2003-NMCA-059, 133 N.M. 571, 66 P.3d 344

. We granted certiorari pursuant to NMSA 1978, § 34-5-14(B) (1972). See also Rule 12-502 NMRA 2003. We now hold that the filing of a notice of appeal does not preclude the district court from holding a probation revocation hearing or revoking a defendant's probation. Since the district court did not lack jurisdiction to act upon the State's petition, we reverse the Court of Appeals.


{2} Defendant was convicted by a jury of various crimes, including aggravated battery and aggravated assault against a household member. On August 15, 2000, Defendant was sentenced to six years in prison less one day; however, the district court suspended the sentence and placed Defendant on probation for five years. On September 13, Defendant filed a timely notice to appeal his conviction. Defendant did not request an appeal bond, the district court did not set an appeal bond, and Defendant began serving his probationary sentence.

{3} While his appeal was pending, on September 30, Defendant was arrested on several charges stemming from a DWI investigation. This arrest violated the probation order that was filed by the district court on October 3. On December 19, the State petitioned the district court to revoke Defendant's probation based on these violations. The district court held a hearing on March 5, 2001, at which Defendant admitted to violating the terms of his probation. The district court accepted his admission and announced it would set sentencing on the violations at a later date.

{4} In the meantime, Defendant's appeal to the Court of Appeals had been pending. On March 29, the Court of Appeals affirmed Defendant's conviction. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the State's petition to revoke his probation on the ground that the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition while his case was on appeal. On June 4, the district court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss the State's petition, and, on June 26, the court revoked Defendant's probation based on his admission at the March 5 hearing. The court again sentenced Defendant to probation.


{5} The specific issue presented in this case is one of first impression. We must determine whether the district court could act upon the State's petition to revoke probation while Defendant's appeal was pending. Resolution of this issue requires inquiry into the meaning and legislative intent of NMSA 1978, § 31-11-1(A) (1988), which provides that "[a]ll appeals and writs of error in criminal cases have the effect of a stay of execution of the sentence of the district court until the decision of the supreme court or court of appeals."

{6} The Court of Appeals held that Section 31-11-1(A) indicates a legislative intent that a defendant's sentence of probation be stayed pending appeal and thus the district court lacked jurisdiction to act on the State's petition to revoke probation. Rivera, 2003-NMCA-059, ¶¶ 9, 11,133 N.M. 571,66 P.3d 344. The Court reasoned that Section 31-11-1 codified the general common law rule that a trial court is divested of jurisdiction during the pendency of an appeal. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. The Court found support for its analysis in State v. Ramirez, 76 N.M. 72, 412 P.2d 246 (1966) and State v. Cordova, 100 N.M. 643, 674 P.2d 533 (Ct.App.1983). In Ramirez, this Court held that a defendant may not waive his or her right to an appeal bond in order to receive credit against the defendant's sentence for his or her time of confinement during the appeal. 76 N.M. at 76,412 P.2d at 249. In Cordova, the Court of Appeals stated that the defendant was "under no legal duty except moral, perhaps, to make any restitution during the pendency of his or her first appeal." 100 N.M. at 648,674 P.2d at 538. The Court of Appeals concluded that the only proper mechanism the district court had to control Defendant's behavior while his appeal was pending was an appeal bond with conditions of release. Rivera, 2003-NMCA-059, ¶ 20,133 N.M. 571,66 P.3d 344.

{7} Judge Castillo dissented. She distinguished both Ramirez and Cordova on their facts, id. ¶¶ 28-29, 32-33 (Castillo, J., dissenting), and concluded that a trial court is not divested of jurisdiction to hear matters unrelated to the issues on appeal, id. ¶ 36 (Castillo, J., dissenting). We agree with Judge Castillo that neither opinion is particularly helpful in resolving this appeal.

{8} Since 1966, the law regarding credit for time served has changed. See NMSA 1978, § 31-20-11 (1977) (granting credit for time served for period spent in confinement during appellate review). Thus, Ramirez has been modified by statute. Cordova is also distinguishable. It is unclear whether an appeal bond was executed by the defendant in that case. If we assume that an appeal bond was in fact executed in Cordova, that case is not inconsistent with this Court's holding today. The posting of an appeal bond in Cordova would have stayed the defendant's probation, thus giving him no legal duty to make restitution while his appeal was pending. See infra ¶ 26. Additionally, unlike other conditions of probation, "requiring victim restitution is declarative of [a] public policy to make whole the victim of the crime to the extent possible." State v. Lack, 98 N.M. 500, 505, 650 P.2d 22, 27 (Ct.App.1982); see also NMSA 1978, § 31-17-1 (1993) (allowing the court to order a defendant to make full or partial payment to the victim of the actual damages that would be recoverable in a civil action). Staying execution of victim restitution will generally not defeat the Legislature's goal of prompt and effective defendant rehabilitation in a way that staying the entire probationary sentence may. See infra ¶ 24. For the foregoing reasons, we believe this case turns on the proper construction of Section 31-11-1(A), which is an issue of first impression.


{9} "Interpretation of a statute is a matter of law, which we review de novo." State v. Rowell, 121 N.M. 111, 114, 908 P.2d 1379, 1382 (1995). Likewise, "[t]he determination of whether the language of a statute is ambiguous is a question of law," which we also review de novo. Leo v. Cornucopia Rest., 118 N.M. 354, 357, 881 P.2d 714, 717 (Ct.App.1994).


{10} "`The starting point in every case involving the construction of a statute is an examination of the language utilized by [the Legislature]' in drafting the pertinent statutory provisions." State v. Johnson, 2001-NMSC-001, ¶ 6, 130 N.M. 6, 15 P.3d 1233 (quoting State v. Wood, 117 N.M. 682, 685, 875 P.2d 1113, 1116 (Ct.App.1994)) (alteration in original). Under the plain meaning rule of statutory construction, "[w]hen a statute contains language which is clear and unambiguous, we must give effect to that language and refrain from further statutory interpretation." State v. Jonathan M., 109 N.M. 789, 790, 791 P.2d 64, 65 (1990).

{11} However, applying the plain meaning rule is not always as simple as the statement of that rule may imply. As Chief Justice Montgomery eloquently cautioned this Court

[The plain meaning rule's] beguiling simplicity may mask a host of reasons why a statute, apparently clear and unambiguous on its face, may for one reason or another give rise to legitimate (i.e., nonfrivolous) differences of opinion concerning the statute's meaning. In such a case, it can rarely be said that the legislation is indeed free from all ambiguity and is crystal clear in its meaning. While ... one part of the statute may appear absolutely clear and certain to the point of mathematical precision, lurking in another part of the enactment, or even in the same section, or in the history and background of the legislation, or in an apparent conflict between the statutory wording and the overall legislative intent, there may be one or more provisions giving rise to genuine uncertainty as to what the legislature was trying to accomplish. In such a case, it is part of the essence of judicial responsibility to search for and effectuate the legislative intent—the purpose or object—underlying the statute.

State ex rel. Helman v. Gallegos, 117 N.M. 346, 353, 871 P.2d 1352, 1359 (1994).

{12} Application of the plain meaning rule often does not end the 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. See id. ("[W]e believe it to be the high duty and responsibility of the judicial branch of government to facilitate and promote the legislature's accomplishment of its purpose...."); Sims v. Sims, 1996-NMSC-078, ¶ 21, 122 N.M. 618, 930 P.2d 153 (noting that the plain meaning rule "is only a primary source of understanding, not conclusive, and it must yield on occasion to an intention otherwise discerned in terms of equity, legislative history, or other sources") (quoted authority and quotation marks omitted). This recognition of the plain meaning rule as a tool of statutory construction is not intended to minimize its doctrinal importance. Looking simply to the plain meaning of the language employed by the Legislature will resolve many issues of statutory construction. See, e.g., Cooper v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 2002-NMSC-020, ¶ 16, 132 N.M. 382, 49 P.3d 61 (holding that the plain...

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