People who lead police on high-speed chases cannot be prosecuted if they are pursued by an officer in an unmarked police car, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Under state law, a pursuit must be initiated by a “uniformed law enforcement officer in an appropriately marked law enforcement vehicle.”

The state’s highest court sided with a District Court judge who dismissed a charge against a man in San Juan County because a sheriff’s deputy who pursued him drove a sport utility vehicle with a siren and flashing red and blue lights in its grill but no law enforcement decals or lettering.

Justices also upheld a Court of Appeals decision to reverse a man’s conviction in Curry County because a sheriff’s deputy involved in the chase drove an unmarked SUV and wore civilian clothing — shirt, tie, dress slacks and a badge — rather than a patrol uniform.

Police need to display “decals or other prominent and visible insignia” on their vehicles for drivers to know they are being pursued by law enforcement, the court ruled.

“Reiterating the definition of ‘mark’ as that which provides identification, we cannot conclude that lights or a siren are unique in identifying a police officer’s vehicle where emergency vehicles, tow trucks, and even civilian vehicles may be equipped with these same signaling devices,” according to the court’s majority opinion.

“Moreover, while a police officer’s badge is a distinctive accessory that identifies a police officer, it is not, standing alone, a uniform,” the majority concluded.

Aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer is a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison.

(10) comments

Khal Spencer

I don't know why both the Journal and New Mexican are unconcerned with full reporting as to leave out critical information such as the full name of the case, or a link to the decision, for those readers who are NOT lazy and want to know something about the case. At least the Journal had the names of the parties contesting the convictions.

The Martinez case grows out of State v. Martinez. This is a lower court reference.

https://casetext.com/case/state-v-martinez-1471

The other is State v. Montano.

https://law.justia.com/cases/new-mexico/court-of-appeals/2018/a-1-ca-35275.html

The NM Supreme Court web site is even more impenetrable. Good luck finding anything. But both these cases seem to look only at the "aggravated fleeing".

David Gunter

Can we get better clarification from the author of this piece? It isn't clear if suspects cannot be charged with *any* crime wherein they were caught by an unmarked/un-uniformed officer, or if they can only not be charged with "Aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer".

Khal Spencer

My guess is that it only applies to aggravated fleeing. Not the underlying crime or perhaps recklessness while evading.

Craig Meyer

I came here from Oregon in 2014. Up there, only police cars are allowed to have blue lights. I was very surprised here where all sorts of vehicles have them. It was confusing. If they were exclusive here there wouldn't be as big a problem.

Kate Carswell

I agree! Blue lights should only be on police cars! It’s very confusing!

Lee DiFiore

One more crack in the thin blue line.

Mike Johnson

Is this a part of the BLM police reform agenda? Is that because of the police brutality and racial profiling/racism it represents?

Mark Ortiz

Right on cue!

Richard Irell

And, as per usual, his reading comprehension sucks.

Richard Irell

No.

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