A Tucumcari resident who led Logan police and Quay County sheriff's deputies on a high-speed chase in 2017 will leave prison earlier than anticipated after an appellate court last week ruled he should have been given credit for time served in the county jail before his sentencing.
Three appeals court judges ruled unanimously on July 27 that Justin French, now 30, should have been granted an additional 293 days of confinement credit, and the case will be remanded back to Tucumcari district court with instructions to enter an amended sentence.
The court also vacated French's conviction for resisting, evading and obstructing an officer because that and his conviction of aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer was considered double jeopardy.
"We're very happy that Mr. French will be getting credit for the time he served in jail," appellate attorney Caitlin Smith wrote in an email last week. "He's still in prison, and we expect there will be a resentencing hearing, so we don't know exactly what this will mean for his release date."
An email requesting comment from New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and assistant attorney general John Kloss, who argued the case for prosecutors before the appeals court, was not answered.
On Sept. 8, 2017, French led law enforcement officers on a chase from Logan to Tucumcari. According to earlier reporting by the Quay County Sun, a Logan officer recognized French as he was driving on Highway 540 Loop in Logan and knew French was wanted on several felony warrants. French fled from police on village streets, then turned south on U.S. 54. Speeds during the pursuit reached 110 mph.
After stopping in Tucumcari, French left the vehicle and ran away from the officers. French was found in a shed and arrested. French was on probation from two other criminal cases and was booked into the jail on a no-bond hold.
The car eventually crashed on Highway 104 north of Tucumcari and damaged a Logan police car. Two other individuals in the car during the chase also were arrested.
French was convicted during a jury trial on July 31, 2018, of possession of methamphetamine, aggravated fleeing of a law enforcement officer and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer. In September, he was sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison, with nearly four years of that suspended. He also received one year of parole after his prison term, with nearly four years of probation. He was credited with 90 days of presentencing confinement credit.
Appeals Court Judge Shammara H. Henderson wrote in her opinion, concurred by fellow judges Jacqueline Medina and Zachary Ives, the district court "erroneously" denied French credit for his time in the jail.
Regarding the double jeopardy, Henderson wrote that French leading officers on a chase until he stopped the vehicle, ran away and hid under a shed did not show "'a separation in time or space between acts or changes in the nature, intent, or objective of the conduct' at issue here."