The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

NM Supreme Court abolishes 'spousal communication privilege'

 

September 8, 2019



SANTA FE — In upholding the murder conviction of a Clovis man, the state’s Supreme Court has abolished the “spousal communication privilege” for subsequent cases.

The ruling came in regard to an appeal for David Gutierrez II’s first-degree murder conviction for the shooting death of Jose Valverde, who was found dead April 8, 2002, inside a boxcar in Clovis. The case went cold for 13 years, but Gutierrez was indicted in 2013, tried by a jury in 2017 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

During trial Gutierrez’s ex-wife offered testimony stating he had taken her to the scene of the crime for assistance in locating a shotgun shell, according to the court record. Gutierrez’s second and by then-estranged wife also stated in trial that he had also confessed to her his killing of Valverde.

In his ensuing appeal Gutierrez claimed a “violation of the spousal communication privilege,” also described as the “prohibition against court testimony about private conversations between a husband and wife,” according to a news release Monday from the Administrative Office of the Courts.

In the concluding majority opinion, Chief Justice Judith Nakamura determined the intentions of the spousal privilege “played no role whatsoever in Gutierrez’ decision to disclose to (his wives) the fact that he killed the victim,” and furthermore that the privilege did not prohibit either woman’s specific testimony. She stated more broadly that the spousal privilege “no longer produces any substantial public benefit that justifies its continued recognition” and that it was “a vestige of a vastly different society than the one we live in today and has been retained in New Mexico simply through inertia.”

Retired Justice Petra Jimenez and Gary Clingman joined in the majority decision, with which “New Mexico becomes the only state in the nation without a legal protection for confidential marital communications,” according to dissenting Justice Barbara Vigil.

The late Justice Charles Daniels, who died Sunday, wrote in support of the majority opinion but also said “it should have been considered (instead) through the rules process,” according to the AOC release.

 
 

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