New Mexico Courts
The New Mexico court system provides residents with various programs and services to assist with their legal matters. In New Mexico, there is one federal District Court (a federal court), a state Supreme Court, a state Court of Appeals, and Trial Courts (Magistrate Court, Municipal Court, Probate Court, and Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court) with both general and limited jurisdiction. These courts serve different purposes in the legal system of New Mexico. The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico is one of 94 United States district courts. The district operates out of courtrooms in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, and Roswell. Decisions of the court are appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals located in downtown Denver at the Byron White Federal Courthouse.
In the New Mexico Judicial System, litigants have the right to appeal the decision of a lower court before a higher one if such judgment is not satisfactory. The District Court first hears appeal cases from the Trial Courts (Magistrate Court, Municipal Court, Probate Court, and Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court). From there, such cases can be filed with the New Mexico Court of Appeals. However, there are some cases where Trial Courts appeal directly to the New Mexico Supreme Court. This occurs when the case in question falls directly under the jurisdiction of the apex Court. These include:
- Criminal matters involving life imprisonment or the death penalty
- Cases involving the Public Regulation Commission
- Writs of habeas corpus appeals,
- All matters involving election/ nomination challenge
- Matters concerning the removal of public officials.
However, the New Mexico Supreme Court’s most crucial duty is to review decisions made by the Court of Appeals. This allows it to weigh in on conflicts, important questions of law, and precedents when needed. When the Supreme Court passes a judgment, it is final and binding on all state courts. The decision may only be reviewed by the Federal Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeals fulfills a similar role to the Trial Courts. Acting in its capacity as the intermediate appellate court in the state, it oversees and reviews the lower courts’ decisions made up of the 33 Superior/ Trial Courts located across New Mexico’s 33 counties. The Court of Appeals has mandatory jurisdiction in civil, non-capital criminal, and juvenile cases. It also has discretionary jurisdiction in interlocutory decision cases and administrative agency appeals.
To file for an appeal with the Court of Appeals, the parties appealing must submit all briefs and relevant documents from the proceedings of the Trial Court that passed the judgment. The court has ten judges who sit in panels of three to decide on cases. The Court of Appeals does not admit new evidence; the court’s final decision is based on the appealing parties’ submitted documents and oral presentations. After presentations, the judges review the documents and pass a judgment. If the appealing parties are still not satisfied, they may then appeal to the Supreme Court.
The New Mexico Court of Appeals has offices in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. However, only federal appellate courts have the jurisdiction to hear appeals about federal cases.
All courts (both federal and state courts) operate an administrative office which maintains New Mexico court records relevant to the state. The ultimate purpose of the New Mexico judicial branch as well as the executive and legislative branches is to manage state operations and ensure the safety and well being of state residents.
What is the New Mexico Supreme Court?
The New Mexico Supreme Court is the state's court of last resort, being the state's highest court. Its authority is defined and backed up by Article VI of the New Mexico Constitution. It is primarily an appellate court that reviews lower courts' civil and criminal decisions in the state, specifically Trial Courts of general jurisdiction and certain specialized legislative courts. It only has original jurisdiction in a limited number of actions. Alongside reviewing judgments passed by the lower courts, the Supreme Court also has administrative and supervisory authority over the state's lower courts. The court has the authority to discipline attorneys and judges for professional misconduct and unethical behavior. It is currently located in the New Mexico Supreme Court Building in Santa Fe.
The Supreme Court hears appeals from the New Mexico Court of Appeals as well as appeals from trial courts under these circumstances:
- Criminal cases involving a death penalty or life sentence.
- Cases where the trial granted a petition for writ of habeas corpus,
- Matters involving the Public Regulation Commission
- Matters on election challenges
- Cases involving writs of certiorari, mandamus, prohibition, and superintending control
Five justices serve at the Supreme Court. The ideal candidate must be thirty-five or above and must have not less than ten years of active law practice experience. Also, the candidate must have lived in New Mexico for three years before taking the bench. Each justice is either chosen by the governor or by a general election. Each justice serves an eight-year term. To fill a vacancy, a bi-partisan judicial nominating commission solicits, accepts, and evaluates applications for the seat and then submits a list of qualified applicants to the governor. The governor has thirty days to announce a new appointment. The justices then choose by a majority vote one of the members as the Chief Justice.
New Mexico Court of Appeals
The New Mexico Court of Appeals was created by a constitutional amendment on September 28, 1965. The appellate court originally started with four judges; between 1972 to 1978, it was expanded to seven judges, and by 1991, it was expanded to ten, which is still the case. The ten judges sit in panels of three to decide on cases. The court's jurisdiction covers the state district courts and a few state agencies.
The following case types are heard by the Court of Appeals in New Mexico:
- Civil, non-capital criminal, and juvenile cases (mandatory jurisdiction)
- Interlocutory decision cases and administrative agency appeals (discretionary jurisdiction).
New Mexico District Court
New Mexico District Courts have general jurisdiction and hold jury trials. There are thirteen different Judicial Districts in New Mexico: First Judicial District, Second Judicial District, Third Judicial District, Fourth Judicial District, Fifth Judicial District, Sixth Judicial District, Seventh Judicial District, Eighth Judicial District, Ninth Judicial District, Tenth Judicial District, Eleventh Judicial District, Twelfth Judicial District, and Thirteenth Judicial District. The District Courts have a total of Ninety-four judges.
The District Courts hear the following types of cases:
- Tort, contract, real property rights, and estate
- Exclusive domestic relations and mental health
- Appeals for administrative agencies and lower courts
- Miscellaneous civil jurisdiction
- Exclusive criminal appeals jurisdiction
- Exclusive juvenile jurisdiction
New Mexico Magistrate Court
New Mexico Magistrate Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction that decide cases through jury trials. There are 54 magistrate courts in the state, and sixty-seven judges preside over them.
New Mexico Magistrate courts hear the following types of cases:
- Tort, contract
- Small claims (landlord/tenant rights from $0 to $10,000).
- Felony preliminary hearings.
- Misdemeanor, DWI/DUI, and other traffic violations.
Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court
Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court (BCMC) is the Judicial system of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County's metropolitan areas. The courthouse is located in Downtown Albuquerque. It has limited jurisdiction and hears Jury trials. Nineteen judges serve in the BCMC, including a chief judge and one presiding judge for criminal and civil cases. Judges are elected by eligible voters in Bernalillo County and each judge holds a 4-year term in the 19 divisions of the court. Elections are partisan, and there are no term limits in the court system.
Eligibility requirements to hold an office in the Metropolitan Court include membership of the New Mexico Bar and at least three years of practice in New Mexico.
The court hears and decides on the following types of cases:
- Tort, contract, landlord/tenant rights ($0-10,000)
- Felony first appearance
- Misdemeanor, DWI/DUI
- Domestic Violence and other traffic violations
New Mexico Municipal Court
The New Mexico Municipal Courts are established to ensure a speedy and fair hearing. The New Mexico Legislature provided a Municipal Court in each city, town, and village in New Mexico. Any municipality with a population greater than 1,500 must have a Municipal Court. Smaller communities may choose whether or not to have a Municipal Court. Currently, Municipal Courts exist in 81 municipalities in the state.
Municipal courts have limited jurisdiction and do not hold Jury trials. These courts only hear cases involving a violation of municipal ordinances. There are eighty-one Municipal Courts scattered across the 33 counties of New Mexico state. Eighty-three judges serve in these courts to preside over the following types of cases:
- Petty misdemeanors, DWI/DUI,
- Traffic violations
- Other municipal ordinance violations.
New Mexico Probate Court
New Mexico Probate Court handles probate cases. Its jurisdiction is limited to probate, will, and estate matters. It does not hold jury trials. The Probate Court's main responsibility is to admit wills to probate and appoint personal representatives to administer a decedent's estate. It also has the power to appoint special administrators to an estate.
A probate proceeding may be filed in a County Probate Court if the decedent was domiciled in the county at the time of death (i.e., the county was the permanent place of residence for the decedent's). Also, if the decedent lived outside of New Mexico but owned property in the county, a probate proceeding can be filed in the county. The Probate Court also provides general information about the probate process and access to probate files (searches). The court has thirty-three judges, each representing one of the thirty-three counties in New Mexico.
The court hears these types of cases:
- Informal probate;
- Estate (uncontested cases) District Courts handle contested estate cases.
What are Appeal Court Limits?
An appeal is a petition filed to a higher court to request the review of a case that has already been decided, usually to establish or correct a presumed error in the judgment passed by a lower court or tribunal. The higher court may affirm, vary, or reverse the original decision. Every final judgment of a trial court in a civil case is appealable by law. Appeals are time-bound, and the appellant must take certain required steps not to lose the right to appeal. For instance, to appeal a Municipal Court sentence, it is mandatory to file a Notice of Appeal within 15 days. The notice must be filed with the District Court in the county the Municipal Court passed the sentence. Also, a docket fee of $10 must be paid to the District Court when filing the notice, and a copy of the notice must be delivered to the Municipal Court. Only when these actions are taken is the right to an appeal secured.
How Do I Find My Case Number in New Mexico?
Interested persons can obtain case numbers from the clerk of the court where the case was filed. These unique numbers are assigned to cases to differentiate them and make for easy identification. Each digit indicates a piece of unique information about the case assigned. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals case numbers have four parts that indicate the type of court, court location code, the case category, and sequential listing. In contrast, case numbers for Trial Courts Cases (District, Magistrate, Metropolitan, Municipal) comprise five unique parts representing the type of court, court location code, case category, the year, and the sequence.
To obtain a case number, interested persons must request it from the court clerk where the cases were filed. This may be done online by utilizing the New Mexico Courts CaseLookup application. For in-person requests, visit the office physically or mail a request addressed to the court clerk's office.
Does New Mexico Hold Remote Trials?
In New Mexico, video conferencing and other electronic communication technology are allowed only in certain situations and proceedings for civil and criminal cases. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 43 allows video conference technology in civil cases, but only in limited circumstances. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the New Mexico Supreme Court on March 24, 2020, ordered all judges to conduct civil and criminal proceedings by video and teleconference. However, there is an exception for cases where an emergency in-person appearance is required. On April 16, 2020, the court extended the suspension of jury trials to May 29. In the order, the court announced that a maximum of 15 people would be allowed in the courtrooms and other parts of the courthouse. This is to promote social distancing. Also, judges were ordered to conduct civil and criminal proceedings through video or phone conferences.
Members of the public can observe a proceeding conducted by telephone or video remotely during the current public health emergency. To participate, interested persons must obtain the call-in number and PIN for the telephone or video conference. To obtain the numbers, visit the particular judge's calendar webpage handling the case webpage or the District Court judges webpage. These are some of the measures taken to safeguard both the court staff and the general public's health against the COVID-19 pandemic. To get an update of each New Mexico court's response to the order, visit the public access portal on each court's official website.