Monday, April 21, 2014

Holdings: State v. Sedillo, New Mexico Court of Appeals

State v. Sedillo is a case dealing with whether certain documents are hearsay or not under the New Mexico's Rules of Evidence.  Sedillo specifically addresses a situation where the State finds documents in a room where illegal drugs are found and the State attempts to use the documents to show that the defendant actually lived in the room, and therefore exercise control over the room.  The documents in question are a telephone bill and a handwritten note identifying the defendant and listing the home as his address.

Sedillo can be read in its entirety here:

Holdings Regarding Standard of Review for Appellate Review of a Trial Court's Evidentiary Decisions.

An appellate court reviews a trial court's evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion.  State v. Johnson, 2010-NMSC-016, p. 40, 148 N.M. 50, 229 P.3d 523.

"An abuse of discretion occurs when the ruling is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances of the case. We cannot say [a trial court] abused its discretion by its ruling unless we can characterize it as clearly untenable or not justified by reason."  State v. Otto, 2007-NMSC-012, p. 9, 141 N.M. 443, 157 P.3d 8 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

"When a criminal conviction is being challenged, counsel should properly present [the appellate courts] with the issues, arguments, and proper authority."  State v. Clifford, 1994-NMSC-048, p. 19, 117 N.M. 508, 873 P.2d 254.

Holdings Regarding the Requirement of the Citing of Authority

"When a party does not cite authority to support an argument, [a court] may assume no such authority exists."  State v. Vandever, 2013-NMCA-002, p. 19, 292 P.3d 476, cert. denied, 2012-NMCERT-011, 297 P.3d 1226.

Holdings Regarding Sufficiency Of Evidence To Sustain A Criminal Conviction

"A conclusion based on mere conjecture or surmise will not support a conviction."  State v. Rojo, 1999-NMSC-001, p. 31, 126 N.M. 438, 971 P.2d 829 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Holdings Regarding the Prohibition of an Appellate Court Speculating Regarding a Record

An appellate court will not speculate about how the record may have been developed further for the possible admission of evidence that was properly excluded on the grounds of hearsay.  State v. Leahy, 78 P.3d 132, 135 (Or. Ct. App. 2003).

Holdings Regarding Admissibility of Certain Hearsay Statements

Hearsay is an inadmissible out-of-court statement that "a party offers in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in a statement."  Rule 11-801(C)(2) NMRA; Rule 11-802 NMRA.

If an out-of-court statement is offered for a legitimate purpose other than its truth, the statement does not constitute hearsay and is not rendered inadmissible on that basis.  State v. Otto, 2007-NMSC-012, p. 18, 141 N.M. 443, 157 P.3d 8.

To be admissible as non-hearsay, an out-of-court statement must have a legitimate probative purpose that is not dependent upon its truth. State v. Otto, 2007-NMSC-012, p. 19, 141 N.M. 443, 157 P.3d 8.

However, if the legitimacy of the State's alternative non-hearsay purpose only relies upon the truth of the matter asserted, then the statement will not overcome its hearsay nature and remains inadmissible.State v. Otto, 2007-NMSC-012, p. 20, 141 N.M. 443, 157 P.3d 8.

Once it is established that evidence is admissible for a legitimate non-hearsay purpose, it "is not to be excluded because it is inadmissible for another purpose."  State v. Rivera, 1993-NMCA-011, p. 18, 115 N.M. 424, 853 P.2d 126.

An appellate court's analysis of hearsay evidence admitted for a purpose not dependent upon its truth must determine what factual assertions, if any, are made by the exhibits or documents and whether these statements have another legitimate evidentiary purpose that is not dependent upon the truth of the matters asserted in the actual documents.  State v. Otto, 2007-NMSC-012, p. 20, 141 N.M. 443, 157 P.3d 8.

New Mexico's appellate court's have affirmed the admittance of evidence as non-hearsay when it was relevant to prove the separate and legitimate purpose of a defendant's exercise of control over a particular location where drugs are found.  State v. Rivera, 1993-NMCA-011, pp. 17-18, 115 N.M. 424, 853 P.2d 126 (admitting a receipt showing that a gun purchased the day before was found in a bag with the same gun inside because it was introduced to show that the defendant exercised control over the place where the gun was kept, not as proof of the truth of the matter contained on the face of the receipt-that the defendant purchased the gun on a particular day, from a particular vendor, and for a particular price); State v. Brietag, 1989-NMCA-019, p. 14, 108 N.M. 368, 772 P.2d 898 ("The presence of drugs in a drawer in the defendant's bedroom, when defendant's papers were also in the drawer, supports an inference that the defendant exercised control over the drawer's contents and knew the drugs were present."); see also United States v. Ashby, 864 F.2d 690, 693 (10th Cir. 1988) (admitting a car title showing that the defendant owned the car as non-hearsay, because the title was not admitted to show actual ownership of the vehicle, but rather, to show that the defendant had a connection to the car in which drugs were found): United States v. Arrington, 618 F.2d 1119, 1126 (5th Cir. 1980) (admitting utility bills as non-hearsay when they were introduced to show that the defendant lived in the house in which contraband was found).

Where documents are not used solely for the purpose to identify an individual, but also have the legitimate purpose of establishing the location of where a defendant keeps his personal belongings, and therefore the space that he or she exercises control over, the documents are not excluded by the hearsay rule.  State v. Rivera, 1993-NMCA-011, p. 17, 115 N.M. 424, 853 P.2d 126;  State v. Brietag, 1989-NMCA-019, p. 14, 108 N.M. 368, 772 P.2d 898.

Reliability as a legal concept as used in State v. Alberico, 1993-NMSC-047, 116 N.M. 156, 861 P.2d 192, has no place in an analysis of admission of documents or evidence dealing with non-scientific issues.  State v. Alberico, 1993-NMSC-047, p. 53, 116 N.M. 156, 861 P.2d 192 (holding that scientific evidence is only relevant if it shown to be reliable while further explaining that reliability in that context relates to whether a scientific method or technique is able to bring about consistent results.)

In the context on non-scientific evidence, any measurement of reliability actually rests upon the credibility of the witnesses that testify about the evidence, and to the extent that the credibility of the witnesses is relevant, it will be tested when the witnesses associated with the evidence testify at trial and are subject to cross-examination.   State v. McClaugherty, 2008-NMSC-044, p. 56, 144 N.M. 483, 188 P.3d 1234 (indicating that the requirement of reliability of a witness statement is met by sworn, in-court testimony of that witness, who is subject to cross-examination).

A document that contains distinct information other than simply the identity of the person may be entered into evidence to show that an individual exercised control over a given location if that document is found within that location.  United States v. Singer, 687 F.2d 1135, 1147 (8th Cir. 1982) (stating that an envelope containing the defendant's name and address would be inadmissible hearsay if admitted to show that the defendant lived at the address, but not if it was introduced to show that it could be inferred by the sender's conduct of mailing letter that the defendant lived there.)

The safe keeping of personal correspondence records in a particular location can separately establish an element of control over the location and its contents.  United States v. Hazeltine, 444 F.2d 1382, 1384 (10th Cir. 1971) (holding that an envelope addressed to the defendant was not hearsay when it was admitted to prove that he was the occupant of the prison cell in which drugs were found); Shurbaji v. Commonwealth, 444 S.E>2d 549, 551 (Va.Ct.App. 1994)(holding that utility bills addressed to the defendant were not hearsay when they were admitted as circumstantial evidence that the defendant stored his property in a bedroom in which drugs were found); State v. McCurry, 582 S.W.2d 733, 734 (Mo.Ct.App. 1979)(holding that a telephone bill addressed to the defendant at the home where drugs were found was not hearsay when it was not offered to show the truth of the matters asserted on the face of the bill and was instead offered because it was a personal effect of the defendant that was circumstantial evidence connecting him to the bedroom where the drugs were located.)

A document that has no other information on it but the name of the occupant, as well as the address, without more is inadmissible hearsay when the document is being used solely to establish that defendant lives at the address listed on the document.  Bernadyn v. State, 887 A.2d 602, 606-15 (Md. 2005) (holding that a medical bill that had the defendant's name and address on it was hearsay when admitted to show that the defendant lived at the address); United States v. Singer, 687 F.2d 1135, 1147 (8th Cir. 1982).

A document exclusively containing a defendant's name and an address, without more, is insufficient to establish that it is the personal property of a defendant or otherwise has a legitimate independent purpose or probative effect that extends beyond the truth of the matters asserted.  State v. Otto, 2007-NMSC-012, pp. 18-20, 141 N.M. 443, 157 P.3d 8 (stating that based upon its nature and content any use of such a note to establish who had control over a location would be speculation and solely dependent upon the truth of the identifying information stated in the note, and therefore inadmissible hearsay); United States v. Patrick, 959 F.2d 991, 1000 (D.C. Cir. 1992) ("Unlike the use of the name on the receipt to show that an item belonging to [the defendant] was found in the bedroom, the prosecutor published [the defendant's] address of [the defendant's] residence."). abrogated on other grounds as recognized by United States v. Lowe, 143 F. Supp.2d 613 (S.D. W. Va. 2000).