Fugate v. New Mexico

LOCATION: Congress

DOCKET NO.: 83-6663
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: New Mexico Supreme Court

CITATION: 470 US 904 (1985)
ARGUED: Feb 19, 1985
DECIDED: Mar 26, 1985

J. Thomas Sullivan - on behalf of Petitioner
Paul G. Bardacke - on behalf of Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Fugate v. New Mexico

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 19, 1985 in Fugate v. New Mexico

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Williamson County v. Hamilton Bank.

Mr. Sullivan, I think you may proceed when you're ready.

J. Thomas Sullivan:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court, Petitioner this morning argues that the jurisdictional exception noted by this Court in its 1912 decision, Diaz.

v. United States, has been implicitly or by implication rejected in the subsequent decisions of the Court in Waller v. Florida and Robinson v. Neil.

The Petitioner was involved in an automobile accident in August 1981 in southern New Mexico and, as a result of that accident, two things happened.

He was charged with violation of municipal ordinances for driving while intoxicated and for careless driving, and another party of that accident was injured.

The Petitioner went to court in Carlsbad, New Mexico, pleaded no contest to the charges, was convicted upon his plea, and was sentenced.

That sentence included confinement in an alcohol rehabilitation unit for a period of 21 days, followed by a six-month period of probation, which included mandatory weekly alcohol counseling sessions.

In September of 1981, the party who had been injured in that accident died, apparently as a result of those injuries, and the State commenced a felony prosecution for vehicular homicide.

The Defendant was tried and convicted.

His first conviction was set aside by the New Mexico Court of Appeals on an unrelated ground, and on remand his newly-retained defense counsel filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that based upon double jeopardy principles, the prior convictions for lesser included offenses in the Carlsbad Municipal Court barred a subsequent State prosecution for the greater offense of vehicular homicide.

Warren E. Burger:

What did the second constitution have to establish that was not necessary to be shown in the first?

J. Thomas Sullivan:

The State was required to prove either that as a result of unlawful operation of a vehicular and resulting accident, that a person had either been injured and sustained great bodily injury, or had died as a result of that accident.

The State was required further, in order to establish the felony offense, that the accused was either operating the vehicular while driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, or that he was operating the vehicular recklessly.

After his second conviction, the New Mexico Court of Appeals reversed, applying double jeopardy law, principles enunciated in decisions in this Court, to hold that the prior convictions in municipal court for lesser included offenses barred the subsequent vehicular homicide prosecution.

In so doing, the Court of Appeals made four distinct important findings.

First, it rejected the argument advanced by the State that the necessary or essential facts exception of Diaz v. United States applied, to hold that the State was justified in waiting to commence its vehicular homicide prosecution until after that injured person had died.

The Court of Appeals looked to the wording of the New Mexico statute which permits the State to commence a felony prosecution.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Sullivan, it's the judgment of the Supreme Court of New Mexico that's being reviewed here, isn't it?

J. Thomas Sullivan:

Yes, Your Honor.

But the threshold of the decision in the New Mexico Supreme Court critically relies on what the Court of Appeals did in this case and what it didn't do.

William H. Rehnquist:

So you say it's necessary for us to understand the Court of Appeals' reasoning in order to understand the Supreme Court's reasoning?

J. Thomas Sullivan:

I believe it's necessary to understand the Court of Appeals' reasoning to understand why we believe that we're entitled to the bar of double jeopardy when the decisions of this Court were applied.

The necessary and essential facts exception of Diaz were rejected by the Court of Appeals because the State could have prosecuted because the injury, causing great bodily injury to the victim of that accident was available, was known to the State at the time the traffic offenses were prosecuted.

Second, the Court of Appeals held that the reckless driving and careless driving offenses are greater and lesser included offenses for double jeopardy purposes.

That's been conceded by the State throughout the litigation.

Third, the Court of Appeals held essentially that DWI and reckless driving are lesser included offenses under every case of the felony offense of vehicular homicide.

They are included because the vehicular homicide statute defines the offense in terms of a prior commission of one of three modes of driving unlawfully: driving while intoxicated, driving while under the influence of drugs, or driving recklessly.

What the Court of Appeals finally rejected was the State's argument that the jurisdictional exception which was noted by this Court in Diaz would apply as an exception to the double jeopardy bar.

As I understand it, the jurisdictional exception applies where a court does not have jurisdiction over an offense and therefore could not have adjudicated an offense.