State v. Smith

Decision Date16 September 2004
Docket NumberNo. 28,477.,28,477.
Citation2004 NMSC 32,98 P.3d 1022,136 N.M. 372
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Petitioner, v. Kathleen SMITH, Roy Gonzales, and Richard Montoya, Defendants-Respondents.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court

Patricia A. Madrid, Attorney General, Stuart M. Bluestone, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Margaret McLean, Assistant Attorney General, Arthur W. Pepin, Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, for Petitioner.

Nancy L. Simmons, Jack Bennett Jacks, Albuquerque, NM, for Respondents.

Hilary Chandler Tompkins, Santa Fe, NM, for Amicus Curiae Office of the Governor.

Michael B. Browde, Albuquerque, NM, Paula Tackett, Santa Fe, NM, for Amicus Curiae N.M. Legislature.


BOSSON, Justice.

{1} During the 2003 session, the New Mexico Legislature significantly amended the penalty provisions of the DWI statute, NMSA 1978, § 66-8-102(G) (1953, as amended through 2003), so as to increase the sentences for repeat offenders. See 2003 N.M. Laws, ch. 90, § 3. On appeal from Defendants' DWI convictions, the Court of Appeals reversed the sentences imposed. The court held that the penalty provisions, as amended, were a nullity because another bill, passed during the same legislative session and subsequently signed into law, implicitly repealed the prior amendment, and left Section 66-8-102(G) as it was before the 2003 session without the increased sentences for repeat offenders. We granted certiorari to review legislative intent. Having determined that the legislature clearly intended to amend and increase the penalties for repeat offenders, notwithstanding language in another, later-enacted bill, we reverse and reinstate the increased sentences imposed upon Defendants in this case.


{2} During the 2003 session, the legislature passed three bills to amend Section 66-8-102, the DWI statute. On March 19, 2003, the governor signed House Bill (HB) 250, 2003 Leg., 46th Sess. (N.M.2003), 2003 N.M. Laws, ch. 51, § 10, which lowered the limit for commercial drivers' blood or breath alcohol concentration to .04, and repeated, without change, the existing penalty provisions of Section 66-8-102(G). House Bill 250 immediately became law pursuant to its emergency clause. On March 28, 2003, the governor signed into effect HB 117, 2003 Leg., 46th Sess. (N.M.2003), 2003 N.M. Laws, ch. 90, § 3, which also contained an emergency clause. House Bill 117 amended the sentencing provisions of the DWI statute by increasing the terms of imprisonment for those who have committed four to seven (and subsequent) felony offenses. Finally, on April 5, 2003, the governor signed HB 278, 2003 Leg., 46th Sess. (N.M.2003), 2003 N.M. Laws, ch. 164, § 10, which did not contain an emergency clause and went into effect July 1, 2003. House Bill 278 amended Section 66-8-102 by authorizing intergovernmental agreements between tribes and the state in order to share information needed to prosecute repeat DWI offenders. As part of the constitutional amendment process, HB 278 also restated the remaining portions of Section 66-8-102 it was not amending, which included the penalty provisions set forth in Section 66-8-102(G) in its then-current form, prior to the changes enacted in HB 117. See N.M. Const. art. IV, § 18 ("No law shall be revised or amended, or the provisions thereof extended by reference to its title only; but each section thereof as revised, amended or extended shall be set out in full.").

{3} House Bill 278 is the law currently appearing in New Mexico Statutes Annotated as Section 66-8-102, though the other two amendments are noted and printed in full in the annotation. As the last bill signed by the governor amending Section 66-8-102, HB 278 and its effect on the penalty provisions of the original Section 66-8-102(G) is the controversy we now address.

{4} Defendants Kathleen Smith, Roy Gonzales and Richard Montoya were sentenced as fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-time felony DWI offenders, respectively. The same district judge sentenced each Defendant pursuant to the increased penalty provisions in HB 117, the law in effect at the time the crimes were committed. All Defendants appealed, arguing that the law in effect at the time of their sentencing, which occurred after July 1, 2003, was HB 278. As previously mentioned, HB 278 did not refer to the increased penalties of HB 117.

{5} The Court of Appeals issued separate calendar notices proposing to reverse the district court. The State filed a memorandum in opposition. After consolidating the appeals, the Court of Appeals, acting on its summary calendar without formal briefing or argument, issued a divided opinion concluding that the district judge imposed the wrong sentences. State v. Smith, 2004-NMCA-026, ¶ 19, 135 N.M. 162, 85 P.3d 804. The Court of Appeals majority held that the penalty provisions controlled as set forth in HB 278, the last bill signed into law affecting Section 66-8-102. Id. Thus, DWI offenders sentenced after July 1, 2003 were not subject to HB 117, the second bill signed into law providing for more severe penalties.

{6} The majority concluded that NMSA 1978, § 12-2A-16(C) (1997) required a lesser punishment to be imposed if a defendant is sentenced after the effective date of an amendment reducing the penalty.1 Smith, 2004-NMCA-026, ¶ 7, 135 N.M. 162, 85 P.3d 804. Because Defendants had not been sentenced by July 1, 2003, when HB 278 went into effect, the Court of Appeals held that sentencing provisions of the later-enacted bill applied to Defendants, and accordingly, reversed the district court and remanded for reduced sentencing. Id. ¶ 1. We granted the State's petition for certiorari, finding that the validity of House Bill 117 and its increase in felony DWI penalties is a matter of substantial public interest. See Rule 12-502(C)(4)(d) NMRA 2004. The New Mexico Legislature and the Governor submitted a joint amicus brief to this Court in support of the State's position before this Court.


{7} The specific issue in this case is the legislative intent behind the three bills passed during the 2003 legislative session and the effect of those bills upon Section 66-8-102, the DWI statute. The Court of Appeals characterized the issue as "one concerning statutory enactment and compilation." Smith, 2004-NMCA-026, ¶ 5, 135 N.M. 162, 85 P.3d 804. The majority held that the last amendment signed by the governor controls the sentencing. Id. ¶ 19. Judge Pickard dissented, stating "it is imperative to look to see what the Legislature was trying to accomplish in its passage of the three bills at issue here." Id. ¶ 25 (Pickard, J., dissenting). We agree with the dissent.

Standard of Review

{8} We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo. State v. Rivera, 2004-NMSC-001, ¶ 9, 134 N.M. 768, 82 P.3d 939

. Our ultimate goal in statutory construction "is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature." State v. Cleve, 1999-NMSC-017, ¶ 8, 127 N.M. 240, 980 P.2d 23. It is "the high duty and responsibility of the judicial branch of government to facilitate and promote the legislature's accomplishment of its purpose." State ex rel. Helman v. Gallegos, 117 N.M. 346, 353, 871 P.2d 1352, 1359 (1994).

{9} We begin by looking at the language of the statute itself. State v. Johnson, 2001-NMSC-001, ¶ 6, 130 N.M. 6, 15 P.3d 1233 (2000). However, we exercise caution in applying the plain meaning rule. "Its 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." State ex rel. Helman,117 N.M. at 353,871 P.2d at 1359. The plain meaning rule "must yield on occasion to an intention otherwise discerned in terms of equity, legislative history, or other sources." Sims v. Sims, 1996-NMSC-078, ¶ 21, 122 N.M. 618, 930 P.2d 153 (internal quotation marks and quoted authority omitted). Our task is to determine how the original drafters would have applied these amendments to the existing statute. See State ex rel. Helman,117 N.M. at 354,871 P.2d at 1360 ("As nearly as we can, we must put ourselves in the place of those who uttered the words, and try to divine how they would have dealt with the unforeseen situation; and, although their words are by far the most decisive evidence of what they would have done, they are by no means final." (quoting Judge Learned Hand's concurring opinion in Guiseppi v. Walling, 144 F.2d 608, 624 (2d Cir.1944))).

{10} This Court has rejected a formalistic and mechanical statutory construction when the results would be absurd, unreasonable, or contrary to the spirit of the statute. See State ex rel. Helman, 117 N.M. at 351-52, 871 P.2d at 1357-58. In addition to looking at the statutory language, "we also consider the history and background of the statute." Rivera, 2004-NMSC-001, ¶ 13, 134 N.M. 768, 82 P.3d 939. We examine the overall structure of the statute and its function in the comprehensive legislative scheme. Id. "[A] statutory subsection may not be considered in a vacuum, but must be considered in reference to the statute as a whole and in reference to statutes dealing with the same general subject matter." 2A Norman J. Singer, Statutes and Statutory Construction § 46:05, at 165 (6th ed., rev.2000). Whenever possible, "we must read different legislative enactments as harmonious instead of as contradicting one another." State v. Muniz, 2003-NMSC-021, ¶ 14, 134 N.M. 152, 74 P.3d 86 (quoted authority omitted). Finally, when a statute is ambiguous, we may consider the clear policy implications of its various constructions. See Ortiz v. BTU Block & Concrete Co., 1996-NMCA-097, ¶ 13, 122 N.M. 381, 925 P.2d 1.

{11} We now apply these principles of statutory construction to determine the effect of the three legislative enactments on the penalties for repeat DWI offenders.

Rules of Statutory Construction Applied

{12} The Court of Appeals...

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