NMSC: Trial judge properly granted new trial after he had ex parte contact with jury

After a murder trial that involved some confusing jury instructions, the jury appeared to return an inconsistent verdict on one count. Without notifying counsel, the trial judge walked over to the jury room and said “I’m confused about your verdict,” told them to read the instructions again, and that they needed to clarify the verdict. (For more on the crime charged, see this story by Patrick Lohmann in the Albuquerque Journal).

The trial judge disclosed this contact to trial counsel, and granted a new trial.

In State v. Aguilar, a direct appeal, the Supreme Court unanimously held (in an opinion by Justice Shannon Bacon) that a trial judge properly granted the new trial, and that double jeopardy does not preclude a retrial.

Retired Justice Petra Jimenez Maes, and former Justice Gary Clingman (who was defeated in the 2018) election, participated in this decision, presumably under judge pro tempore appointment orders.

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