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  • mhowden6

The Third and Final Installment in the After the Arrest Series - By Chief Deputy District Attorney Jessica Martinez


The first stage of the trial is called Voir Dire which translates to “See the truth”. At this stage, a panel of 40 or more jurors who reside in the county in which the trial is taking place are selected using a lottery system. The Judge speaks with all the potential jurors and ask them questions. Once the judge is finished asking the jurors questions the District Attorney can ask questions of the jurors. Once the District Attorney has finished asking questions, the defense attorney asks questions of the jurors. The goal here is to get to know as much as possible about each potential juror to select jurors who do not possess biases and preconceived notions about the case before hearing the evidence. The state and the defense want jurors who will decide the outcome of the case based solely on the evidence presented during trial.

Once questioning is finished, the court goes through each juror one by one and asks the defense and the state if they would like to keep that juror or strike them. The State picks first and gets three strikes. The defense gets 5 strikes. The first 12 jurors who are not stricken will be selected to sit on the jury.


Once a jury is Impaneled, opening statements commence. The State always goes first during a trial. Opening statements are a chance for the State and the Defense to tell the jury what they believe the evidence will show. It’s a chance to give the jury an introduction into what the case will be.

After opening Statements, the state then puts on what’s called its Case in Chief. The state calls all their witnesses to testify about the nature of the case, presents physical evidence through these witnesses such as photographs, videos, clothes with blood on it or the weapons used during the crime. Once the state has finished asking questions of each witness the defense may then cross examine the witness to test that witness’ credibility. After cross examination the state may then ask follow up questions only regarding what was discussed in cross examination. The state cannot go beyond anything discussed in cross examination. This is called, Outside the Scope of Cross and an objection will be raised by the defense if this happens.

Also, during the state’s case in chief, the state must make sure to prove each element of the charges. For example, a charge of a battery on a household member, the state must show

1. The defendant intentionally touched or applied force to the victim, a household member.

2. The defendant acted in a rude, insolent, or angry manner.

3. This happened in New Mexico on or about the day of incident.

A household member means a spouse, former spouse, parent, present or former stepparent, present or former parent in-law, grandparent, grandparent-in-law, a co- parent of a child, or a person with whom the Defendant has had a continuing personal relationship. Cohabitation is not necessary to be deemed a household member.

The state then attempts to prove these elements by presenting testimony from the victim about what happened, when it happened, where it happened, the relationship between the victim and the defendant, and asking the victim to identify that the defendant is in fact the person who caused the injuries to her/him on the day in question to prove each element of battery on a household member.

The state may also call other witnesses to corroborate the victim’s testimony such as law enforcement officers who responded to the call and who maybe saw marks on the victim’s body, or wounds on the defendant’s knuckles, or who collected the assault weapon. Other witnesses may also be called to testify who may have seen the incident take place, and possible forensic scientists who tested the evidence for fingerprints, DNA, or blood.

When the state has finished presenting all the evidence the state possesses against the defendant the State will rest. The defense then makes a motion for a Directed Verdict and argue that the state failed to meet its burden of proof, failing to prove each element of the crime charged. While this motion is standard practice it is rarely granted in full, however, occasionally a case will get dismissed because the evidence presented did not prove each element of the crime charged.

If the court denies the directed verdict motion, the defense then can put on its own defense. The defendant is not obligated to put on its own defense. If the Defendant chooses not to put on his/her own defense the jury will be instructed not to consider this choice in their deliberations as it is the defendant’s constitutional right to do so and should not be judged for invoking this right.

After all evidence has been presented, the State and the defense will present their closing arguments. Closing arguments are a chance for both parties to explain to the jury why they should reach a certain verdict based on the evidence presented in court. The State will present first, followed by the defense. Once the defense has finished their closing argument, the State will present a rebuttal closing argument.


After the State and the defense have finished presenting their cases and evidence to the jury, the judge reads the jury a series of instructions called Uniform Jury Instructions. The jury must follow these instructions during their deliberations and must unanimously answer yes to every question in the jury instructions to reach a verdict of guilty. If they answer no to any of the questions, then their verdict must be not guilty. If the jury cannot unanimously reach a decision, then the jury will hang. This is called a hung jury. If this occurs, the judge will declare a mistrial and new trial will commence to a new panel of jurors.

If the jury reaches a guilty verdict the court moves on to sentencing the defendant. Most often if the judge has discretion on the range of sentencing the judge will order a Pre-Sentence Report. This report is prepared by probation and parole. It includes the defendant’s background such as childhood experiences, past and current drug abuse, any mental or physical conditions, employment history and criminal history. The judge uses this report to help make his/her decision at sentencing.


Before the judge decides on how to sentence the defendant, the judge hears arguments from the state, which is usually for a stricter punishment, and the defense, which is normally for a more lenient punishment. After hearing the arguments and statements from family members or victims the judge decides and sentences the defendant. The sentence can range anywhere from probation to incarceration depending on the nature of the charges and the defendant’s history.

  • Jessica Martinez

PART II - By Jessica Martinez, Chief Deputy District Attorney


Once an indictment or a Criminal Information has been filed, the district court schedules an Arraignment Hearing. At this hearing, the defendant is informed of the charges brought against him /her and the maximum penalties for the charges. The question of the defendant’s bond will be addressed. If the defendant is out of custody the judge will likely let him/her remain out of custody if he/she has stayed out of trouble since first released from jail. The judge will however, set conditions that must be followed to remain out of custody while the case is pending trial. If the defendant is still in custody the judge decides whether release is appropriate based on whether the defendant is a flight risk and/or continues to pose a threat to the community.


The Discovery process begins after the Arraignment. The state files a list of all the witness to be called to testify at trial. The State also makes available to the defendant and his/her defense attorney all reports, statements made by witnesses, video recordings, pictures, forensic lab results, in some cases medical reports, and anything else the state will use as evidence to prove the charges brought against the defendant.

The defense attorney then reviews the evidence and works with the District Attorney to interview every witness the State has disclosed on its witness list about their involvement in the case. These are called Pretrial Interviews, or PTI’S for short. If a witness does not appear for his/her scheduled PTI and makes no attempt to re-schedule, that witnesses’ testimony at trial will likely be suppressed by the court and that witness will be barred from testifying at trial.

After all interviews have been completed the defense may file Motions with the court asking the court to limit the use of some evidence presented against the defendant or in some cases may ask the court to dismiss the case because the defense believes the evidence was collected in an unconstitutional way. For example, law enforcement collected evidence without a warrant, the defendant’s statement was taken without Miranda warnings being read to him/her first, or a key witness failed to cooperate in the pretrial interview process. The state has 15 business days to respond to the defense motions once they are filed. The court then holds an evidentiary hearing where testimony may be taken from officers if the motions involve a fourth Amendment, search and or seizure violation allegation. The court will hear arguments from the state and defense and will ultimately decide on whether to grant the defendant’s motion.

If the court grants a suppression motion, the state then must re-analyze the case and determine if the remaining evidence is sufficient to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. If a key witness is suppressed, for example a victim who incurred injuries because of the defendant battering him/her, the state may not be able to proceed because of the defendant’s constitutional right to confront his accusers and rules of evidence disallowing hearsay. If the evidence is sufficient the case will continue to a trial.

Once all motions have been addressed the case will be scheduled for a jury trial or plea negotiations may occur. During the trial, the State has the burden of proving the defendant committed each crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable Doubt is a doubt based upon reason and common sense -- the kind of doubt that would make a reasonable person hesitate to act in the graver and more important affairs of life.


There is a common misconception that when a defendant takes plea charges are reduced or dismissed. However, this not always the case. Often, if a prosecutor has sufficiently vetted his/her case before charging the risks of any evidence or testimony getting suppressed because of a constitutional violation is less likely. Also, if the evidence against the defendant is strong, there is a chance the defense attorney may advise the defendant to plead guilty to the charges for an agreed upon sentence rather than take her/her chances at trial and risk the judge imposing the maximum penalty.

However, there are times when, yes, a plea offer does involve a reduction in charges or sentencing. This can happen for several reasons. Witnesses have become uncooperative, or evidence has been suppressed, or sometimes a witness is cooperative but going through a trial is too emotionally burdensome. When these scenarios happen, the State will evaluate the case and offer a plea to charges that could still be proven at trial despite the suppressed evidence or to charges the victims are comfortable with when they prefer to forgo a trial.


NOTE: For a Glossary of Terms, please see Part 1 of After the Arrest

  • Jessica Martinez

Updated: Oct 18, 2021


A Three Part Series

By Jessica Martinez, Chief Deputy District Attorney

Often you see news reports of people arrested for various crimes. Less often are there reports about what happens after the arrest.

The United States Constitution and the New Mexico constitution both guarantee people the right to be free from self-incrimination, the right to a public and speedy trial by an impartial jury, and the right to be confronted with witnesses against him/her, the right to present witnesses in his/her favor, and the right to an attorney during all proceedings during the criminal process. U.S. Const. Amend. V & VI, N.M Const. Art. II, sec.12, 14, & 15.

What does this mean? It means the State, through the District Attorney has the burden of proving that a person has committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt while protecting both the rights of victim and the rights of the defendant.



The criminal justice process begins when a crime is reported to local law enforcement. Once a crime is reported, the local law enforcement must investigate by collecting all evidence related to the crime. The collection of evidence might include taking recorded or written statements from witnesses, photographing the crime scene, collecting physical evidence such as forensic evidence, clothing, weapons, or anything that may be helpful in determining whether a crime did in fact occur.

After collecting the necessary evidence, and if there is probable cause, an officer may arrest the suspect(s) believed to have committed the crime. Probable Cause means the officer has more than just a suspicion or possibility that a crime was committed, and that the accused committed it. If an arrest is made the officer will also file criminal charges against the suspect by filing a document called a criminal complaint with the local magistrate or metropolitan court.

Once a complaint is filed and an arrest is made, the court must hold a hearing called a First Appearance within 48 hours of the arrest. During the hearing the Defendant (the accused) is informed of the charges against him/her, and it is determined whether release from custody is appropriate based on the nature of the charges and the defendant’s criminal history. During this stage of the process a defense attorney is appointed to represent the defendant at no cost to the defendant if the defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney.

After a First Appearance, the court informs the newly appointed defense attorney and the local District Attorney of the charges brought against the defendant in addition to setting a Notice of Hearing for a probable cause hearing, also known as a Preliminary Hearing. If the defendant is to remain in custody this probable cause hearing must be held within 10 business days from the first appearance. If the defendant has been released from custody, the probable cause hearing must be held within 60 days of the first appearance.


At this stage the District Attorney reviews the case to determine if charges are appropriate and if so charges will be filed. When reviewing a case for possible charges, the district attorney must follow the applicable ethical rules allowing a prosecutor to file charges only when there is sufficient probable cause to charge the defendant with a crime and the district attorney has a reasonable belief that the evidence is sufficient to produce a successful outcome at trial. If the evidence is not sufficient then the prosecutor must decline to prosecute the case.

If the evidence is sufficient, the District Attorney decides if the case should be presented to a grand jury for a determination of probable cause or proceed with a preliminary hearing in which case a judge will decide if probable cause exists. Each option has its own benefits.


A Preliminary Hearing is like a trial. The State calls witnesses to testify about the incident and those witnesses are subject to cross examination by the defense attorney. The defendant may also present his/her own evidence if s/he chooses. At the conclusion of the hearing the judge determines if there is enough evidence to move forward. If the judge determines that sufficient probable exists, then the case is bound over to the District Court for trial. The District Attorney then files a “Criminal Information” listing all the charges for which the Magistrate judge has found probable cause, in the district court.

A preliminary hearing is ideal for cases with few witnesses and or less complex charges. It allows the state to better assess the strength of the case since their evidence will be subject to cross examination.


A Grand Jury is a secret proceeding in which 12 impartial members of the community decide if probable cause exists. During the Grand Jury hearing, the district attorney acts as an aid to the grand jury. S/he calls witnesses to testify before the grand jury and proposes charges s/he thinks are appropriate. However, the grand jury also has the power to call additional witnesses if they deem necessary and they may choose which crimes to charge. After the grand jury hears all the testimony, the district attorney and the court reporter leave the room and only the members of the grand jury remain while they deliberate. If the grand jury finds sufficient probable cause exists, they issue what is called a True Bill with the grand jury indictment listing all the charges for which they have found sufficient probable cause. The district attorney then files that Indictment with the district court.

A grand jury is ideal for complex cases or cases involving vulnerable witnesses. During grand jury proceedings, the defendant has the right to testify at the proceeding, but s/he is only allowed in the grand jury room while s/he is testifying. The grand jury proceeding is a more efficient way to present complex evidence since it is not subject to cross examination by the defense. It is also easier for vulnerable victims to testify as they don’t have to testify in front of the defendant and are not subjected to cross examination.


At this stage, if the charges involve a violent crime against an individual, known as a Victim Enumerated Crime, the Victim’s constitutional rights apply. As a victim of an enumerated crime the victim or the next of kin has a right to:

(1) the right to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim's dignity and privacy throughout the criminal justice process.

(2) the right to timely disposition of the case.

(3) the right to be reasonably protected from the accused throughout the criminal justice process.

(4) the right to notification of court proceedings.

(5) the right to attend all public court proceedings the accused has the right to attend.

(6) the right to confer with the prosecution.

(7) the right to make a statement to the court at sentencing and at any post-sentencing hearings for the accused.

(8) the right to restitution from the person convicted of the criminal conduct that caused the victim's loss or injury.

(9) the right to information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, escape or release of the accused.

(10) the right to have the prosecuting attorney notify the victim's employer, if requested by the victim, of the necessity of the victim's cooperation and testimony in a court proceeding that may necessitate the absence of the victim from work for good cause; and

(11) the right to promptly receive any property belonging to the victim that is being held for evidentiary purposes by a law enforcement agency or the prosecuting attorney, unless there are compelling evidentiary reasons for retention of the victim's property.

N.M. Const. art. II, § 24



Arraignment: Typically, the first court proceeding in a criminal case after formal charges have been filed.

Case In Chief: Refers to the phase of a trial where the party with the burden of proof in the case presents evidence.

Criminal Complaint: An initial charging document that describes the criminal charges against a person and the factual basis for those charges, usually filed by law enforcement.

Criminal Information: A formal charging document that describes the criminal charges against a person and the factual basis for those charges filed after a preliminary hearing where probable cause has been found.

Defendant: An individual, company or institution sued or accused in a court of law.

Directed Verdict: A ruling entered by a trial judge after determining there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a jury to reach a different conclusion.

Discovery: A pre-trial procedure in which each party can obtain evidence from the other party or parties.

District Attorney: A District Attorney, State’s Attorney or Prosecuting Attorney is the chief prosecutor and/or the chief law enforcement officer representing a U.S. state in a local government area, typically a county or district encompassing several counties.

Grand Jury: A Grand Jury is comprised of 12 jurors and several alternates. A Grand Jury does not determine guilt or innocence but whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed.

Impanel: To form a jury by summoning or selecting the members – to enroll in or on a panel.

Indictment: A formal charge or accusation of a serious crime issued by a grand jury.

Miranda Rights: The wording used when a person is read the Miranda Warning, also known as being Mirandized. (NOTE: LINK TO THE FULL WORDING)

Motion: A procedural device to bring a limited contested issue before a court for a decision. A request to the judge to decide a certain issue about the case.

Outside the Scope: Outside of the relevant range for example re-direct is not allowed to go beyond the scope of cross examination.

Preliminary Hearing: The hearing in which the judge decides whether probable cause exists to require a defendant to stand trial for a charged crime.

Probable Cause: The standard by which police authorities have reason to obtain a warrant for the arrest of a suspected criminal or issuing of a search warrant. It is also the standard by which grand juries’ issue criminal indictments.

PTI (Pre-Trial Interview): Interviews conducted before the trial begins with potential witnesses.

Reasonable Doubt: The traditional standard of proof that must be exceeded to secure a guilty verdict in a criminal case in a court of law.

True Bill: The name for the decision by a grand jury that evidence presented to it, contained in the prosecutor’s indictment, justifies charging the defendant with a crime.

Uniform Jury Instructions: Instructions for the jury deliberation in the language of the Uniform Jury Instructions regarding the law applicable to the facts in the case at hand.

Victim Enumerated Crime: A crime in which the victim has suffered physical or emotional harm, property damage or economic loss because of the crime, as defined by the NM Constitution.

Voir Dire: The process by which attorneys select or reject certain jurors to hear a case. Jury Selection.

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