How Does The New Mexico Court of Appeals Work?
The Court of Appeals is the appellate midpoint of the New Mexico Court System, addressing and resolving most state appeals. The New Mexico Court of Appeals was established via a constitutional amendment backed by the citizens in a special election held on September 28, 1965.
The court typically has mandatory appellate jurisdiction in civil cases, juvenile cases, and criminal cases that are not punishable by death or life imprisonment. Additionally, the appellate court also has discretionary authority in appeals from administrative departments and interlocutory decision cases, i.e., cases subject to further confirmation.
As a constitutional mandate, the New Mexico Court of appeals has appellate jurisdiction over state district or trial courts and particular public agencies, except cases that can be directly appealed or reviewed in the New Mexico Supreme Court. As a result, the court can address the following court cases according to Chapter 34 and Article 5 of New Mexico Statutes:
- Civil actions that are not explicitly reserved to the Supreme Court jurisdiction by law or constitution
- Legal actions under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, the New Mexico Occupational Disease Disablement Law, the Subsequent Injury Act, and the Federal Employers’ Liability Act
- Criminal cases from trial courts, except those with judgments of capital punishment or life imprisonment
- Legal actions for defiance of municipal or county laws for which a fine or imprisonment is imposed
- The decisions of state administrative agencies across the state, except the Public Regulation Commission, which is under the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction
The original authorizing legislation established the New Mexico Court Of Appeals with just three judges presiding over it. In 1972, it was increased to five judges, then seven in 1978. Eventually, in 1991 and to date, it was expanded to ten judges sitting in panels of three to review and decide the genuineness and lawfulness of previously decided cases.
In the Court of appeals, the appealed cases are usually resolved and decided by judges sitting in panels of three. The court of appeals does not accept additional evidence or hear testimonies of witnesses other than the written records or briefs from the lower court’s initial case trial. While some cases may be decided based on the briefs alone, many of the cases appealed to the court are selected for oral arguments from the lawyers representing the appellees and appellants. The discussions allow both sides to explain and clarify the arguments made in the briefs and respond to questions asked by the panel.
After the arguments are finished, the judges meet in private to decide on the case’s conclusion. As a general rule, when the panel cannot reach a unanimous decision, the more significant number becomes the majority of the court concerning that case. Therefore, a majority of 2 judges must agree on an opinion for it to be the final decision.
The incentive for creating the court of appeals was the growing volume of the Supreme Court’s caseload and the resulting delay in resolving such cases. Consequently, the amendment approved the establishment of an intermediate appellate court consisting of judges also qualified to serve at the state supreme court.
According to the amendment, the judges are supposed to serve terms of eight years. These judges are nominated, elected, and retained based on qualifications similar to the Justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court. Candidates seeking a judge’s position at the court must be at least 35 years old, have practiced law in the state for at least ten years, and be residents in the state for at least three years.
When there is an interim vacancy on the court of appeals’ membership, it is filled by the governor, just like in the New Mexico Supreme Court. He appoints a qualifying candidate from the list of nominees recommended by the judicial nominating commission. To serve the remainder of the term, the New Mexico Court of Appeals appointed judge must win the partisan election; successful judges may run for retention after a full term of 8 years. Note, 57% of the affirmative votes are required to win retention, and any judge of the Court of Appeals cannot be appointed to any other position or office other than a judicial office. Also, at every first meeting in each odd-numbered year, the judges of the court of appeals choose one of their members to serve as chief judge for a term of two years by a majority of votes.
The resolution of cases in the New Mexico Court of Appeals could take two months or as long as a year and a half or even two years. Due to the workload of up to 900 cases appealed in the Court of appeals annually, cases are assigned to the court’s general calendar months in advance. Therefore, appellants are advised to facilitate timely decisions by filing their docketing statement immediately after the notice of appeal to get the case on the summary calendar. However, cases on the summary calendar could take an average of five to six months to decide from notice of appeal to decision.
Records of opinions, oral arguments, and decisions of cases appealed in the New Mexico Court of Appeals are maintained by the Office of the Court Clerk and electronically by the State Judicial Branch. Inquirers can retrieve these records from the Court Clerk by sending written public records requests with the inquirer’s name, address, telephone number, and specific details of the records sought. For access to electronic records of appellate courts, the inquirer must meet the required Secured Odyssey Public Access (SOPA) criteria provided by the New Mexico Supreme Court Order No. 17–8500–001 and Case Access Policy for Online Court Records.
The New Mexico Court of Appeals has offices in Santa Fe, and Albuquerque and below are their locations: