SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A Hobbs man will get a new trial in a police officer battery case after the state’s high court says prosecutors unfairly influenced a jury. That influence, according to the New Mexico Supreme Court, came in the form of the prosecution introducing a prior conviction for the same crime.

The ruling affects a case against Albert Fernandez, who was arrested in March 2018 after he was pulled over while driving a truck through Hobbs. According to a criminal complaint, Fernandez was argumentative during field sobriety tests and struggled with officers who tried to detain him.

In a November 2018 trial, a jury found Fernandez guilty of battery on a peace officer, DWI and careless driving. During that trial, jurors heard testimony from the officers and watched police body camera video. While Fernandez was accused of using his head to strike a police officer, the alleged strike was not captured on camera.

Fernandez also testified in his own defense during the trial. That is where a problem emerged, according to the Supreme Court, because of a line of questioning from a Lea County prosecutor. The prosecutor asked Fernandez if he had a prior conviction for battery on a police officer. Fernandez was previously convicted of the crime in 2017.

While Fernandez truthfully acknowledged the conviction, the New Mexico Supreme Court says the prosecution shouldn’t have asked the question. An objection to the question was overruled during trial.

In their ruling, Supreme Court justices argue that the question had a prejudicial effect on jurors. In allowing jurors to consider Fernandez’s prior conviction in the 2018 case, justices argue that question had an “inflammatory impact.”

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Julie J. Vargas wrote the opinion for the case. She said, in part, “Though Defendant’s conviction is probative of credibility, we conclude that the impeachment value of his conviction for battery upon a peace officer – a violent crime shedding little light on Defendant’s character for truthfulness – is minimal compared to its inflammatory impact.”

The state Supreme Court argues that Fernandez’s prior conviction, “has little bearing on [Fernandez’s] character for truthfulness” and “could improperly tip the scale in favor of the State.” In Fernandez’s case, he was ultimately convicted of battery on a peace officer among other charges.

“The improper impeachment of Defendant with his prior felony conviction discredited his testimony and there is a reasonable probability that it contributed to his conviction,” the court wrote in its opinion. Fernandez will now get a new trial in the case.

It’s unclear when Fernandez’s retrial could occur. The case was first appealed in 2019.