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Deferred Sentence Completion Automatically Restores Civil Rights in New Mexico

Deferred Sentence Completion Automatically Restores Civil Rights in New Mexico

by Mark Wilson

n May 1, 2014, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that satisfaction of the conditions of a deferred sentence fully restores a defendant’s civil rights by operation of law, without the need for a gubernatorial pardon.

In 1992, James Oliver Reese was convicted of a felony tampering with evidence charge in New Mexico. The court deferred sentencing, and once Reese satisfied the conditions of deferment the charge was dismissed.

In 2011, a federal grand jury indicted Reese for being a felon in possession of a firearm on the basis of his 1992 tampering with evidence conviction. Restoration of a defendant’s civil rights can bar a federal felon in possession charge under 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20). Nevertheless, the district court denied Reese’s motion to dismiss; he pleaded guilty to one count and was allowed to appeal the denial of his motion.

The Tenth Circuit asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to determine whether Reese’s civil rights were restored automatically after completion of his deferred sentence, or if he needed a pardon from the governor before his rights were fully restored.

Following an extensive statutory construction analysis, the Supreme Court held that “upon the satisfactory completion of all conditions for a deferred sentence and the resulting dismissal of all charges, New Mexico restores a person’s civil rights, including the right to hold public office, by operation of law without the necessity of a pardon or certificate from the governor.”

Moreover, “restoring a defendant’s civil rights does not require that the record of the conviction be erased,” the Court concluded. Therefore, a conviction that remains on the record after charges are dismissed following completion of a deferred sentence does not negate the fact that the defendant’s civil rights have been restored. See: United States v. Reese, 2014-NMSC-013, 326 P.3d 454 (N.M. 2014).

Based on the New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision on the certified question, on May 23, 2014 the Tenth Circuit ordered the dismissal of Reese’s federal conviction for being a felon in possession of firearms under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). See: United States v. Reese, 559 Fed.Appx. 777 (10th Cir. 2014).


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Related legal cases

United States v. Reese

United States v. Reese