An Interesting Case Involving Open Carry, Defense of Property, and Allegedly Resisting Arrest

The case is City of Espanola v. Archuleta, decided by the New Mexico Court of Appeals in February but just posted on Lexis; it’s closely tied to the terms of the particular city ordinance involved in the case, but I thought that some of our readers would find it interesting. An excerpt:

Frustrated with repeated acts of vandalism perpetrated against his automotive dealership, located in Espanola, New Mexico, Defendant-Appellant Christobal Archuleta decided to arm himself and stand guard at the lot to prevent further depredations. Earlier in the day, he’d talked to Sergeant Griego of the Espanola Police Department and told him that he would be standing guard. Sergeant Griego then gave this information to fellow officer Corporal Wright, who was working the graveyard shift that evening. As promised, Archuleta went to his lot just after ten in the evening that night, November 11, 2006, armed with a shotgun.

About 4 a.m., Espanola police officers, including Corporal Wright, were dispatched to the car lot on a call involving a person with a gun. Upon arrival, they encountered Archuleta, armed with a shotgun and dressed in a dark, hooded sweatshirt. The officers, unaware of Archuleta’s identity, got out of their cars with guns drawn, and demanded Archuleta put his weapon down, and get on the ground. Archuleta was slow to do so, but after a short time, he placed the shotgun on the hood of a truck next to him. He then reached into his sweatshirt, retrieved a mobile phone, and proceeded to place a call. He did not comply with several other demands to put down the phone and get on the ground. A few seconds later, one police officer came up to the truck and removed the shotgun from the hood without any reaction from Archuleta, who continued to talk on the telephone. The officer who had taken the gun then returned, and took Archuleta by the arm, and began to lead him away. Corporal Wright then approached, holstering his own weapon, and took Archuleta’s other arm. Within seconds, the first officer executed a “take down” move, tripping Archuleta to the ground. This maneuver also inadvertently tripped Corporal Wright, who likewise fell down in the tangle. Officers then forcibly subdued Archuleta, pepper-sprayed him in the face, handcuffed, and arrested him.

Corporal Wright testified that at no time did Archuleta point the shotgun at anyone, and that he had been told that someone would be present that night at Archuleta’s car lot, but that it was not mentioned that anyone would be armed.

Archuleta was convicted in municipal court and appealed to the district court for an appeal de novo. The district court convicted him of violating Espanola Municipal Ordinance Section 70-211(a)(4), which proscribes “[r]esisting or abusing any … peace officer in the lawful discharge of his duties.” Defendant now raises a variety of arguments for reversal, but owing mostly to the specificity with which the district court convicted him under that particular ordinance subsection, we hold that his conviction was not supported by substantial evidence. Under the statutory scheme chosen by the drafters of Espanola’s Municipal Code, Archuleta neither resisted nor abused the police; we accordingly reverse….

Archuleta … argues that since our state constitution guarantees his right to bear arms for security and for the defense of his property, the police had no reason to detain him. He also argues [among other things] that the ordinance, as applied, was unconstitutional; … and finally, that the evidence presented at trial does not support his conviction under Ordinance Section 70-211 (a)(4) of the Espanola Municipal Code. We agree with this last assertion and hold that substantial evidence does not support Archuleta’s conviction under the scheme chosen by the drafters of the Espanola Municipal Code, specifically, Ordinance Sections 70-211(a)(4) and 70-212. We have no occasion to reach Archuleta’s other arguments….

[I]n reviewing Archuleta’s conviction, we ask two questions. First, can Archuleta’s behavior be classified as “resisting?” Second, were the police lawfully discharging their duties at the time of Archuleta’s alleged crime? Because we answer the first question in the negative, we do not reach the second….

For more, and for the dissent, see here.