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NM Supreme Court ruling resolves legal question about prosecuting cattle theft


Last updated 10/4/2022 at 1:53pm

SANTA FE – Livestock theft is to be prosecuted for each occurrence of theft rather than a separate charge for each animal allegedly stolen, the state Supreme Court ruled in an opinion released Monday.

According to a news release from the Administrative Office of the Courts, in a unanimous opinion, the state’s highest court provided the legal reasoning for a decision it announced from the bench earlier this year in a consolidated appeal involving cases awaiting trial for allegedly stealing cattle in Otero County. The Court heard oral arguments in the case in Las Cruces as part of a civics education program for students.

In an opinion written by Justice David K. Thomson, the Court concluded that the state law prohibiting livestock larceny – Section 30-16-1(G) – “does not express an intent to prosecute defendants for each animal they have allegedly stolen; instead, the statute expresses an intent to prosecute defendants for each episode of theft.”

Livestock larceny is a third-degree felony, punishable by three years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.

To reach its decision, the Court analyzed the wording of the statute, the legislative purpose of the law, the severity and length of punishments provided for under the current statute and reviewed the legislative history of laws against livestock theft since New Mexico’s territorial days.

The justices rejected arguments by the state that defendants should face one charge for each head of livestock stolen.

Prosecutors initially charged each of the defendants based on the number of cattle they allegedly stole but a district court in Otero County granted pretrial motions by the defendants to merge the charges. The Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision and the state appealed to the Supreme Court.

As a result of the district court’s rulings, Gerardo Torres, faces two counts of livestock larceny – one count for each episode of theft on different days from the same location and same owner in 2017. He originally was charged with 18 counts for allegedly stealing 18 cattle.

The Supreme Court ordered the matter back to the district court and stated in the opinion that it would be up to a jury to determine based on factual issues whether the two offenses against Torres “were distinct.”


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