State v. Segotta

Decision Date17 November 1983
Docket NumberNo. 14972,14972
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Petitioner, v. Lisa Jeanette SEGOTTA, aka Lisa J. Baca, Respondent. STATE of New Mexico, Petitioner, v. David O. MEAD, Respondent.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court
Paul Bardacke, Atty. Gen., Carol Vigil, Asst. Atty. Gen., Santa Fe, for petitioner

RIORDAN, Justice.

Defendants Lisa Jeanette Segotta (Segotta) and David O. Mead (Mead), were indicted on Count I for the first degree murder of John A. Segotta contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 30-2-1(A), and on Count II for conspiracy to commit first degree murder contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 30-28-2, and NMSA 1978, Section 30-2-1(A). Segotta was also indicted on Count III for solicitation to commit first degree murder contrary to NMSA 1978, Section 30-28-3 (Cum.Supp.1980), and Section 30-2-1(A). Both Segotta and Mead were convicted of second degree murder. Segotta was also convicted of solicitation to commit first degree murder. On review, the Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions of Segotta and Mead but remanded both cases for resentencing because NMSA 1978, Section 31-18-15.1 (Cum.Supp.1983) was held unconstitutional. State v. Segotta, 100 N.M. 18, 665 P.2d 280 (Ct.App.1983); State v. Mead, 100 N.M. 27, 665 P.2d 289 (Ct.App.1983). The State of New Mexico (State) petitions for writ of certiorari. We reverse both cases only on the issue of the constitutionality of Section 31-18-15.1.

The issue addressed is whether Section 31-18-15.1 is unconstitutionally vague.

The facts are adequately presented in both opinions by the Court of Appeals. After trial and upon both convictions for second degree murder, the trial court found that aggravating circumstances existed and sentenced Segotta and Mead to be imprisoned for twelve years, nine years as a basic sentence and three years for aggravating circumstances.

On review, the Court of Appeals held that Section 31-18-15.1 did not withstand the constitutional challenge of vagueness. Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that the lack of guidelines renders Section 31-18-15.1 void for vagueness and that absent either guidelines or criteria for determining what circumstances may be aggravating, Section 31-18-15.1 lacks clarity and is subject to widely varied application. We disagree.

A statute will be held unconstitutional in violation of due process of law, if the statute either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must guess at its meaning and differ as to its application. Bokum Resources Corp. v. New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission, 93 N.M. 546, 603 P.2d 285 (1979). Constitutional vagueness is based on notice and applies when a potential actor is exposed to criminal sanctions without a fair warning as to the nature of the proscribed proceedings. State v. Marchiondo, 85 N.M. 627, 515 P.2d 146 (Ct.App.1973). Nevertheless, in scrutinizing the constitutionality of a statute, we have adopted certain rules of statutory construction. Namely, we presume the statute to be constitutional. Gruschus v. Bureau of Revenue, 74 N.M. 775, 399 P.2d 105 (1965). In addition, we have a duty to construe a statute in such a manner that it is not void for vagueness if a reasonable and practical construction can be given to its language. See State ex rel. Sanchez v. Reese, 79 N.M. 624, 447 P.2d 504 (1968). The statute must be read and considered as a whole so as to ascertain its legislative intent, and the statute's words and phrases are to be considered in their generally accepted meaning. See State v. Najera, 89 N.M. 522, 554 P.2d 983 (Ct.App.1976).

Section 31-18-15.1 provides that:

A. The court shall hold a sentencing hearing to determine if mitigating or aggravating circumstances exist and take whatever evidence or statements it deems will aid it in reaching a decision. The court may alter the basic sentence as prescribed in Section 31-18-15 NMSA 1978 upon a finding by the judge of any mitigating or aggravating circumstances surrounding the offense or concerning the offender. If the court determines to alter the basic sentence, it shall issue a brief statement of reasons for the alteration and incorporate that statement in the record of the case.

B. The judge shall not consider the use of a firearm or prior felony convictions as aggravating circumstances for the purpose of altering the basic sentence.

C. The amount of the alteration of the basic sentence for noncapital felonies shall be determined by the judge. However, in no case shall the alteration exceed one-third of the basic sentence.

The Court of Appeals previously has considered challenges to the constitutionality of Section 31-18-15.1 in State v. Wilson, 97 N.M. 534, 641 P.2d 1081 (Ct.App.), cert. denied, 98 N.M. 50, 644 P.2d 1039 (1982). In Wilson, the defendant committed an aggravated battery by shooting the victim with a firearm. Upon review, the Court of Appeals determined that factors such as the defendant's two hour wait for the victim, defendant's statement before she shot the victim, and defendant's deliberateness could be properly considered by the trial court as aggravating circumstances pursuant to Section 31-18-15.1. The Court of Appeals, therefore, specifically held that Section 31-18-15.1 is not unconstitutional as violative of either due process, separation of powers, or double jeopardy. However, in its present constitutional analysis of Section 31-18-15.1, the Court of Appeals neglected to consider its holding in Wilson and the holding in the present case creates inconsistencies which give rise to our consideration of the matter.

After reviewing Section 31-18-15.1 in terms of the constitutional analysis of Wilson, and in view of our rules of statutory construction, we determine Section 31-18-15.1 to be constitutional. We agree with the rationale of the Colorado Supreme Court in the case of People v. Phillips, 652 P.2d 575 (Colo.1982). In Phillips, the Court construed a similar sentencing statute involving aggravating and mitigating factors 1 to determine whether their sentencing statute was unconstitutionally vague. In determining that the Colorado sentencing statute was not unconstitutionally vague, the Court rationalized that:

The presumptive sentencing statute reflects the legislature's concern that sentencing of felons be fair and consistent, provide punishment commensurate with the seriousness of the offense, act as a deterrent, and promote rehabilitation. In order to accomplish these multi-faceted goals, the legislature first established a presumptive range of sentences for different classes of felonies, thus ensuring fairness and consistency by eliminating unjustified disparity in sentences. It required the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
72 cases
  • State v. Campos
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • October 22, 1991
    ...N.M. 127, 666 P.2d 1274 (Ct.App.1983); see also State v. Segotta, 100 N.M. 18, 665 P.2d 280 (Ct.App.), rev'd on other grounds, 100 N.M. 498, 672 P.2d 1129 (1983). In this case, we do not address the issue of whether the state constitution accords a greater breadth of protection against unre......
  • Smith v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • November 28, 1986
    ...1159 (1976); State v. Ferbert, 113 N.H. 235, 306 A.2d 202 (1973); State v. Humphreys, 89 N.J. 4, 444 A.2d 569 (1982); State v. Segotta, 100 N.M. 498, 672 P.2d 1129 (1983); People v. Hall, 46 N.Y.2d 873, 387 N.E.2d 610, 414 N.Y.S.2d 678, cert. denied, 444 U.S. 848, 100 S.Ct. 97, 62 L.Ed.2d 6......
  • State v. Chavez
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court
    • April 12, 2021
    ...¶¶ 30, 32, 100 N.M. 18, 665 P.2d 280 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted), rev'd on other grounds , 1983-NMSC-092, ¶ 1, 100 N.M. 498, 672 P.2d 1129 ; Gallegos , 2007-NMSC-007, ¶ 19, 141 N.M. 185, 152 P.3d 828 (noting the possibility of prejudice if evidence would not have been cr......
  • Swafford v. State
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court
    • May 1, 1991
    ...Swafford also challenges the trial court's aggravation of all sentences based on his lack of remorse. This Court, in State v. Segotta, 100 N.M. 498, 672 P.2d 1129 (1983), articulated the aggravating or mitigating factors that the trial court may consider and weigh in establishing a defendan......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT