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"Reasonable Person"

Tutorial on the crimes of stalking and harassment for New Mexico judges

New Mexico's stalking and harassment statutes include a rather unique focus on the impact of the conduct on the victim. For example, under §30-3A-2 the pattern of harassment "must be such that it would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress." Similarly, §30-3A-3(A) contains language about the stalking actions causing "a reasonable person to feel frightened, intimidated or threatened" and as to intent that "alleged stalker must intend to cause a reasonable person to fear for his safety or the safety of a household member." Finally, under §30-3A-3.1 and Uniform Jury Instruction (UJI) 14-333, aggravated stalking is based upon finding stalking in at least one of four statutorily outlined situations so that the essential elements of stalking, including the reasonable person language contained in the stalking statute, would also apply to aggravated stalking.

As is true for the term "pattern of conduct," there is also no Uniform Jury Instruction or statute defining the term "reasonable person" in the context of stalking or harassment criminal offenses. Similarly, the limited New Mexico case law on these offenses does not address what is meant by "reasonable person." Thus, the question remains as to what constitutes a "reasonable person" in a stalking or harassment case.

Nonetheless, New Mexico case law in other areas may shed some light on the meaning of the "reasonable person" term. For example, in the context of whether or not a police-citizen encounter is consensual, the Court of Appeals has stated the following: "The test for determining if a police-citizen encounter is consensual depends on whether, under the totality of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that the person was not free to decline the officers' requests or otherwise terminate the encounter. The test is an objective one based upon a reasonable person standard, not the subjective perceptions of the particular individual. The test presumes an innocent reasonable person. In making this determination, the court should consider the sequence of the officer's actions and how a reasonable person would perceive those actions…." (emphasis added)

State v. Williams, 2006-NMCA-062, ¶10; see also, State v. Rudolfo, 2008-NMSC-036, ¶17 (involving reasonableness in an assertion of self-defense); State v. Gutierrez, 2007-NMSC-033 (involving a reasonable suspicion to detain where there were multiple charges including aggravated stalking); State v. Walters, 1997-NMCA-013 (addressing reasonableness in a police-citizen encounter).