School navigation

National Crime Victim Law Institute

State v. Romero, No. 28,038, 2010 WL 4060313 (N.M. Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2010).

November 01, 2010

Defendant appealed from his convictions on numerous counts, including second and third degree criminal sexual penetration, and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.  He argued, inter alia, that the district court erred (1) in limiting discovery, and (2) in appointing counsel to the victim.  As to the first issue, defendant contended his due process rights were violated because the district court denied him the opportunity to uncover the nature and extent of the victim’s prior drug usage and treatment.  Defendant had submitted seven questions to the victim regarding her past drug use and treatment, arguing this information was relevant because it could explain why the victim did not recall some details surrounding the rape.  The trial court required that the victim answer all but the last question, which related to psychological assessments completed as part of drug rehabilitation, finding this to be privileged.  As to the other questions, the court issued a letter ruling noting that the victim had voluntarily admitted herself into a drug rehabilitation program when she was 19 years old.  The victim also made disclosures concerning events that occurred while she was still a juvenile, which the district court excluded on the grounds that the prejudicial impact would substantially outweigh any probative value and that such questioning would unnecessarily expand the scope of the trial.  As to the second issue, defendant argued that the district court erred in appointing counsel for the victim for the limited purpose of protecting the victim’s rights while she was being deposed.  The appellate court affirmed defendant’s convictions, finding first that defendant had adequate opportunity to bring forward the victim’s current drug and alcohol use without delving into juvenile records, which were only tangentially relevant to the case.  The court also upheld the trial court’s order appointing counsel for the victim.  Citing New Mexico’s constitutional and statutory protections granted to victims, the court recognized that trial judges have an obligation to fully consider victim’s rights.  Among these rights, the court noted, is the right to be treated with dignity, respect and sensitivity during the criminal justice process, and to have this right protected by law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and judges.  Thus, the court concluded that it was not error for the trial judge to appoint counsel for the victim to assist her in protecting her rights while making statements during discovery proceedings.