The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Elliott v. Martinez on Monday, April 9, 2012.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Petitioners were all targets of investigations by the Doña Ana County, New Mexico grand jury. Under New Mexico law “they were entitled to target notices that advised them of the right to testify before the grand jury.” They filed a civil-rights action, alleging that the District Attorney violated their due-process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution because the notices they received may have been untimely under state law. “The district court granted the District Attorney’s motion to dismiss on the ground that the New Mexico statute did not establish a liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.” Petitioners appealed.
Under New Mexico law, “a target of a grand-jury investigation is entitled to notice that he or she is a target unless a district judge finds that notification may result in flight, obstruction of justice, or danger to another person. The notice must describe the alleged crime being investigated, the target’s right to remain silent, and the target’s right to counsel. It must also advise the target of the right to testify before the grand jury on a date no earlier than four days in the future if the target is in custody (and ten days if the target is not). Plaintiffs were in custody at the Doña Ana County Detention Center when they received target notices, and alleged they received them less than four days in advance of testifying.
The Court agreed with the district court and found that “a state-created interest is not protected by the procedural component of the Due Process Clause unless the interest is an entitlement — that is, unless the asserted right to property or liberty is mandated by state law when specified substantive predicates exist.” Additionally, “even if notice is an entitlement under state law, [Petitioners] have failed to state a due-process claim. That is because an entitlement is protected by the Due Process Clause only if it is an interest in life, liberty, or property; and not all entitlements are such interests. . . . The line between substance and procedure is somewhat blurry. In this case, however, there is no question that the state statute creates a procedural right,” and therefore is not protected by the Due Process Clause.