Criminal Law

If you have been charged with a criminal offense, your freedom and your future may be on the line. Our firm understands Criminal Defense Law inside and out, and we are here to help.

Being charged with criminal charges can very stressful.  That stress can be relieved by understanding your rights and hiring competent counsel. The Sandoval Law Firm does not charge for an initial evaluation. We have served thousands of clients on criminal matters.

Know Your Rights: There are two fundamental aspects of the criminal justice system, based upon the United States Constitution, that work in your favor: The presumption that the criminal defendant is innocent, and the burden on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition to these two basic presumptions, criminal defendants have other rights as well. Here is an outline of some of these rights.

Your Right to Remain Silent: The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and a similar provision in the New Mexico Constitution, provides that a defendant cannot “be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” In short, you cannot be forced to speak. If you choose to remain silent, the prosecutor cannot call you as a witness, nor can a judge or defense attorney force you to testify. In addition, no adverse inference may be drawn from your refusal to answer questions.

Your Right to Confront Witnesses: The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives criminal defendants the right to “be confronted by the witnesses against” them. The “Confrontation Clause” gives you or your attorney the right to cross-examine witnesses — that is, the right to require the witnesses to come to court and subject themselves to questioning by the defense. In 2004, in the landmark case of Crawford v. Washington, the United States Supreme Court breathed new life into this provision and affirmed that the Confrontation Clause is vitally important in the criminal justice system.

Your Right to a Public Trial: The Sixth Amendment also guarantees public trials in criminal cases. This means that the Government must prove its case openly and in full view of the public, and that witnesses testify in front of you as well as the general public. Additionally, the presence in courtrooms of your family and friends, ordinary citizens, and the press can help ensure that the government observes important rights associated with trials.

There are limited situations where the court will close itself or portions of its proceedings to the public. For example, judges can bar the public from attending cases involving children defendants, or where adults have been charged with crimes against children. It is typical that witnesses who have not testified will be barred from the courtroom until they have testified, to protect against improper coaching.

Your Right to a Jury Trial: One of the most fundamental rights in the criminal justice system is the right to be tried by a jury. In New Mexico, this typically means that a jury of 12 persons (or 6 persons, if in the Magistrate of Metropolitan Courts) will listen to the evidence and decide on guilt or innocence. The jury’s decision must be unanimous, and if one of the jurors is not in agreement, then the jury is “hung” and the defendant will go free unless the prosecutor decides to retry the case.

A jury is selected from one’s “peers”, which means that members of the community are randomly selected to serve on the Court’s jury panel. Through a lengthy process known as “voir dire”, the panel is questioned by the Court and by the lawyers for both the defense and prosecution, to screen out any biased jurors in order to arrive at an impartial panel of 12 persons. These individuals ultimately are the arbiters of the case and decide whether the prosecution has met its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, so the importance of the process of voir dire cannot be overstated.

Your Right to Be Represented by an Attorney: The Sixth Amendment also provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” Individuals that cannot afford to hire an attorney will have an attorney appointed to represent them at the government’s expense, but only if the defendants face jail time. In New Mexico, judges now routinely appoint attorneys for indigent defendants in nearly all cases in which a jail sentence is a possibility.

Your Right to Adequate Representation: The United States Supreme Court has ruled that both indigent defendants who are represented by appointed counsel and defendants who hire their own attorneys are entitled to “adequate representation”. On occasion, criminal convictions are overturned because it is determined that the trial lawyer failed to perform basic services, and made egregious errors, that compromised the defendant’s constitutional rights. While rare, these reversals demonstrate that a trial attorney must be effective and competent.

Your Right to a Speedy Trial: The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution also guarantees criminal defendants a right to a “speedy trial.” However, it does not specify exact time limits. Thus, judges often have to decide on a case-by-case basis whether your right to a speedy trial has been so delayed that the case should be dismissed. In making this decision, judges examine the length of the delay, the reason for the delay and whether the delay has prejudiced the defendant’s position.

In New Mexico, the general rule is that “simple” felony cases must be tried within nine months from arraignment, cases of “intermediate” difficulty must proceed to trial within twelve months, and complex cases must be tried within fifteen months from arraignment. The determination of whether a case is “simple”, “intermediate” or “complex” is generally made by the trial judge.

Your Right Not to Be Placed in Double Jeopardy: The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This provision, known as the Double Jeopardy clause, guarantees that criminal defendants will not be prosecuted more than once for the same offense.

However, one important exception to the rule against double jeopardy is that criminal defendants can be charged by different jurisdictions for the same conduct. For example, a defendant may face charges in both federal and state court for the same act if some aspects of that conduct violated federal laws while other elements ran afoul of the laws of the state.

Furthermore, the double jeopardy clause does not prevent individuals from being charged in criminal courts, and also face claims of civil liability in civil courts for the same conduct. As revealed in the infamous “O.J. Simpson case”, a criminal defendant can be prosecuted in criminal court (by the government) and also be accused of having committed civil wrongdoing (and face monetary sanctions) in civil court by members of the public for the same act.

Driving while intoxicated:

The greatest and most feared consequence of driving while intoxicated (DWI) is the potential for injury and death to the driver, the passengers, and the traveling public. The consequences of driving while intoxicated in New Mexico are severe and can have a considerable impact on a person’s freedom, his/her family, and career and future.  The following are a series of questions and answers, which outline some of the legal consequences of driving while intoxicated in New Mexico.

What is the definition of Driving While Intoxicated?

A person is guilty of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor if by virtue of having drank intoxicating liquor he/she is to the slightest degree less able, mentally or physically, to exercise the clear judgment and steady hand necessary to safely handle a powerful and dangerous mechanism as a modern automobile.

In New Mexico it is illegal to drive with a breath alcohol concentration of .08 or more if you’re 21 or over, or .02 if you’re under 21. Consumption or possession of alcohol by persons under the age of 21 is illegal in New Mexico. A machine that analyzes the amount of alcohol expelled in the breath measures these alcohol concentrations. If your breath test is at or above the legal limit, or if you refuse to take the breath test, you will lose your license, in most cases for a year.

You can be convicted of DWI even if the breath test is below the legal limit if it is proven that your ability to drive was impaired to the slightest degree by drugs or alcohol. You should therefore avoid driving with any amount of alcohol or other drugs in your system.

Criminal Penalties

New Mexico has some of the strictest penalties for impaired driving in the country, for the reason that it has one of the country’s worst DWI problems. In 1993 the state legislature sent a message to New Mexicans by increasing the severity of the state’s anti-DWI laws and passing laws that have new mandatory penalties. These penalties include going to jail (up to a year and a half), paying fines (as much as $5,000), paying court fees, having to work mandatory community service of up to 48 hours, getting your license revoked for a year, and license reinstatement fees. It now costs $100 just to get your license back after it has been revoked for DWI.

Repeat offenses carry a mandatory jail sentence of up to six months and a mandatory fine of up to $750, neither of which can be suspended. Judges are required to sentence DWI offenders to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine if they have a drinking or drug problem. Offenders that do have such a problem can be ordered into expensive and time-consuming treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.

A fourth or subsequent DWI conviction is now a felony in New Mexico. A felony conviction follows you for the rest of your life, affecting your right to vote, to adopt children, to own a gun, to be employed at certain jobs, to travel to other countries and in other ways which you can’t predict.

You can also go to jail for up to 60 days just for refusing to take the breath test, or if your breath test is at .16 or higher (this is twice the legal limit) or if you cause bodily injury to a person while DWI. This crime is called Aggravated DWI. If you are convicted of aggravated DWI, there is a mandatory jail sentence of between 48 hours and 60 days, depending on if it is a first offense or a subsequent offense. This sentence cannot be suspended by a judge.

Other Penalties: Administrative license revocation 

The police officer who arrests you for DWI will confiscate your license on the spot if your breath test is above the legal limit, or if you have refused to take the test. The police officer takes away your license and notifies the Motor Vehicle Division which then revokes it for up to one year. This action is called administrative revocation and is completely separate from anything that happens when you go to court for DWI. If you are convicted in court, your license will also be revoked in a separate court action.

When your license is confiscated by the police officer you have 20 days before the revocation takes effect. If you want to protest the revocation, you must request an administrative hearing within 10 days of arrest. The request must be in writing and accompanied by a $25 hearing fee, or a sworn statement of indigency. The hearing will in most cases take place within 90 days. The issues that will be discussed in your hearing are very limited. These issues are: 1) that the officer had reasonable grounds to stop you; 2) that you were arrested; 3) that the hearing was held within 90 days of your notice of revocation; 4) if you refused the test, that the police officer notified you that you would lose your license; and 5) if you took the breath test, it was properly given to you and you tested at or above the legal limit.

The only exception to the one year revocation of your license is if you have never been revoked for DWI before and didn’t refuse to take the breath test. If the test is taken and you show a .08 percent or above blood alcohol level, your license will be revoked for a period of 90 days if you are 21 years old or older. If you are under 21 and the test result is .02 percent or above, your license will be revoked for six months for a first offense. On a first offense only, you can get a limited license after 30 days. A limited license allows you to drive only to school or work and back. In order to get a limited license, you must first register with an approved DWI school as well as a program to determine if you have a problem with alcohol or other drugs. You have to show proof of insurance to get the limited license and pay $45. Your regular driving privileges can be restored in 60 days (21 or over) or 5 months (under 21). If you have been convicted of DWI before, or if you refused to take the breath test, you are not eligible for a limited license under any circumstances, including personal or family hardship.

Once your license is revoked, it stays revoked until you reinstate it. The penalties for driving while revoked are severe. You can be sentenced to jail for up to a year (mandatory jail seven days) and can be fined up to $1,000 (mandatory fine $300). Your car can also be “booted” or immobilized for 30 days so you can’t drive it.