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An arrest by a volunteer reserve deputy violated state constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The 2014 arrest of a suspected drunken driver also violated state law that allows only commissioned, salaried officers to make arrests for misdemeanor motor vehicle offenses, the court ruled.
The unanimous ruling reversed a divided decision by the state Court of Appeals that would have allowed prosecutors to use evidence obtained by the unauthorized arrest by a noncommissioned reserve deputy.
Chief Justice Michael Vigil, writing for the panel, set out the facts of the case.
Torrance County Reserve Deputy Roy Thompson was wearing a uniform and driving a marked patrol car in March 2014 when he claimed he was nearly struck by a truck driven by Somer Wright.
Thompson followed the truck to Wright’s home and blocked it in her driveway. He shined a light on her truck and told Wright “to stay put” until a commissioned sheriff’s deputy arrived.
The commissioned deputy later arrested Wright after she failed a field sobriety test and refused to take a breath alcohol test.
A District Court judge ruled that Wright was illegally arrested when Thompson told her “to stay put,” and suppressed evidence obtained by the arrest.
A majority of the Court of Appeals reversed that decision, finding that the lower court had improperly suppressed all evidence from the arrest.
The Court of Appeals majority “erred in determining that (Wright’s) arrest was needed for the promotion of the state’s interest in deterring drunk driving,” Vigil wrote.
The Supreme Court agreed that the state has an interest in deterring drunken diving, “but that interest was not promoted by the arrest of (Wright), who was off of the road, parked at her home, and blocked in,” Vigil wrote.