Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Defendant Joshua Pouliot was tried by jury and convicted on three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, and one count of felonious sexual assault. On appeal, defendant argued the superior court erred by denying his motion to exclude evidence that he answered “no comment” in response to police questioning about the sexual assaults during a non-custodial interview over the phone. He contended that, through his “no comment” response, he invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination. He also agued the trial court may have erred when, after conducting an in camera review of confidential records pertaining to the victim, the court ordered that only certain portions of those records be disclosed to the defendant. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. The matter was remanded for the trial court's further in camera review of the records. View "New Hampshire v. Pouliot" on Justia Law

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Brenna Cavanaugh was convicted by jury of being an accomplice to first degree assault and criminal mischief. On appeal, she argued the evidence was insufficient for the jury to have convicted her and that the Superior Court erred by: (1) declining her request for a self-defense jury instruction; (2) precluding her from introducing extrinsic evidence of the victim’s prior inconsistent statements; (3) allowing certain of the victim’s statements into evidence under the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule; and (4) denying her request to recall a witness. In the very early morning hours of August 18, 2018, defendant’s teenaged daughter invited the sixteen year old victim, to a party. The victim and daughter were friends, and the victim believed that the party was at defendant’s house. Entering an unlocked door, the victim discovered there was no party, and whispered the daughter's name. Hearing no response, the victim left, but not before stepping on a creaky floorboard that woke defendant and her boyfriend. After hearing the front door shut, defendant ran down two flights of stairs to chase after the victim. Her boyfriend followed soon thereafter armed with a handgun. Once outside, the defendant saw the victim inside the truck, which had its engine running and its lights on. She crossed the street and stood approximately one foot away from the front of the truck so that she could see its license plate number. As he prepared to drive away, the victim heard the defendant yell, “shoot, shoot” or “shoot him, shoot him.” Officers involved in a traffic stop approximately 200 yards away from defendant’s home heard six gunshots. After defendant called 911 to report an intruder in her home and that her boyfriend had shot at the intruder’s vehicle, the officers responded to her residence. Meanwhile, the victim returned to the scene with some friends to speak with the officers about the incident. It was later determined the truck was damaged by three different bullets. Although the evidence was conflicting, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the evidence was sufficient to sustain defendant’s convictions, the trial court erred by failing to give the jury a self-defense instruction. The matter was remanded for a new trial. View "New Hampshire v. Cavanaugh" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jeremy Mack was convicted by jury on one count of possession of a controlled drug: psilocyn and/or psilocybin (which he possessed in the form of mushrooms). On appeal, defendant argued that, because Part I, Article 5 of the New Hampshire Constitution protected his right to possess and use mushrooms as part of his religious worship, so long as he did not “disturb the public peace,” the trial court erred by denying his pre-trial motion to dismiss. This appeal required the New Hampshire Supreme Court to interpret Part I, Article 5 and interpretation of the phrase "disturb the public peace." The Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not apply the compelling interest balancing test that Part I, Article 5 required. "Nor, understandably, did it make the factual findings necessary to determine whether, under the test, the defendant’s possession and sacramental use of psilocyn and/or psilocybin mushrooms are protected under Part I, Article 5." The trial court'd order was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "New Hampshire v. Mack" on Justia Law

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Defendant John Gates appealed his convictions for arson, attempted arson, two counts of burglary, being a felon in possession of a dangerous weapon, and use of a Molotov cocktail. He challenged a superior court order denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained when, without a search warrant, the police entered the vestibule and utility closet of his apartment building located on his family’s farm. At trial court, defendant argued that the warrantless search violated his rights under Part I, Article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. The trial court applied the two-part framework established in New Hampshire v. Goss, 150 N.H. 46 (2003), which provided that, for a warrantless search to be unlawful, an individual must have a legitimate expectation of privacy — both subjective and objective — in the place searched. The trial court found that defendant lacked a legitimate expectation of privacy in both the vestibule and the utility closet and concluded that the officers’ warrantless entry into those areas was lawful. On appeal, defendant argued the trial court's conclusions was wrong as to both rulings. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with defendant that, under Part I, Article 19 of the State Constitution, he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the utility closet, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "New Hampshire v. Gates" on Justia Law

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The Rye School District (District) appealed a New Hampshire State Board of Education (State Board) decision that overturned a Rye School Board (School Board) decision. The School Board denied C.B. and E.B.'s (Parents) request to reassign their child (Student) to a school in another district pursuant to RSA 193:3 (2018) (amended 2020). According to the testimony of Student’s mother (Mother), Student had a growth hormone deficiency that hindered her physical growth and caused Student to fall behind academically and socially. Due to Student’s small size, she was often picked up and carried by other pupils, and assaulted. Parents met with the Rye Elementary School principal, but a bullying report was not filed. The school responded to this incident and a subsequent incident by promising to keep Student and the other child apart. At the start of fifth grade, Mother first requested Student's reassignment, alleging the principal did not understand Student’s 504 plan and was not aware of Student’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety issues. Mother requested an Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting, but the school believed that such a meeting was not necessary because the 504 plan could meet Student’s needs. During that academic year, Student was again assaulted by a peer, had issues with anxiety, and was not gaining weight. Sometime before the end of the 2016-2017 school year, Parents decided to withdraw Student from Rye Elementary School and enroll her in an elementary school in a different town. According to Mother, the new school was following the 504 plan and Student no longer needed help with homework. Student’s anxiety decreased and she was gaining weight. In addition, according to Mother, there had been no bullying at Student’s new school. A School Board hearing officer concluded Parents “failed to demonstrate that attendance at the Rye School had a detrimental or negative effect on the Student” and that “[t]here was no basis for reassignment due to Manifest Educational Hardship,” but that was overturned by the State Board. After review of the State Board's record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court determined the District failed to show the State Board's decision was "clearly unreasonable or unlawful," and affirmed its decision. View "Appeal of Rye School District" on Justia Law

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Defendant Christina Fay appealed her convictions on seventeen counts of cruelty to animals. The Wolfeboro Police Department executed a search warrant at defendant’s residence in June 2017 with the aid of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and others, pursuant to which over seventy Great Danes were seized. One of defendant's employees informed the police that there were seventy-eight dogs living at the residence. She stated that the dogs rarely went outside and were not housebroken, and that the residence was covered in animal waste. She reported that the dogs only received water when they were let outside, but that it was not uncommon for the dogs to remain inside for an entire weekend. She also stated that the dogs were fed spoiled meat, and that many vomited often, were underweight, and had liquid stool. In addition, the employee stated that there were riding crops located throughout the house to break up fights among the dogs, and that one dog would bite anyone other than defendant who got near it. Because police did not have resources to execute a search warrant and seizing seventy-eight dogs, HSUS was called to assist in the search. Every member of the police department, the Wolfeboro Fire Department, members of the ambulance team, employees from other town agencies, and staff from HSUS and the Pope Memorial SPCA, executed the warrant on June 16, 2017. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the search, arguing, among other things, that HSUS’s involvement violated her right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. After a hearing, the trial court denied the defendant’s motion. Defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "New Hampshire v. Fay" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Clifford Avery appealed a superior court order that dismissed his complaint for breach of contract against the Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (DOC or department). Avery argue the trial court erred in concluding that his suit was barred by sovereign immunity and, alternatively, that he lacked standing. Avery was an inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men (NHSP) who sued the DOC as part of a federal, class-action, 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit, and the federal district court found that conditions at the NHSP subjected inmates to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The lawsuit resulted in a consent decree requiring the DOC to provide certain services to inmates confined at the NHSP, regularly inspect prison conditions, and ensure that NHSP practices, including those related to food service, medical care, mental health care, sanitation, and maintenance, comported with specified standards. The consent decree was modified to resolve issues raised by Avery and the class of original plaintiffs in motions for contempt that alleged the DOC was violating the terms of the original decree. In his complaint here, Avery made numerous allegations that conditions at the NHSP violated the terms of the settlement agreement. After the case was submitted, the New Hampshire Supreme Court directed the parties to provide supplemental briefing on the issue of sovereign immunity and sought amicus briefing. The Supreme Court determined RSA 491:8 (as amended July 2020) waived the State's sovereign immunity for Avery's suit for breach of the settlement agreement. Furthermore, Avery had standing to pursue his action. The trial court therefore erred in dismissing Avery's complaint on these grounds; the matter was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Avery v. Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Defendant Joshua Shaw was convicted by jury of driving after his license had been suspended, and on misdemeanor counts of enhanced simple assault, attempted enhanced simple assault, resisting arrest, and disobeying an officer. In 2018, while Salem Police Officer Feole was on patrol, he saw a pickup truck pass by with its rear plate area completely covered in snow. Because of the snow, the truck’s registration sticker was not visible, but the truck was pulling a utility trailer with a visible Michigan registration. Feole ran the Michigan registration number and discovered that the trailer was registered to the defendant whose New Hampshire operating privileges had been suspended in 2015 for failing to pay child support. Feole asked defendant if he was the registered owner of the trailer, and defendant confirmed that he was, but still refused to give Feole his license. Defendant was placed under arrest, but he refused, kicking and screaming at Feole and another three officers who arrived to provide backup. Defendant appealed his convictions, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) denying his motion for in camera review of any disciplinary actions involving the police officers in his case and any prior “use of force” reports they filed; and (2) instructing the jury that the crime of disobeying an officer required the State to prove the defendant “refused to produce his driver’s license on demand of a law enforcement officer for the purposes of examination by the officer.” Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence. View "New Hampshire v. Shaw" on Justia Law

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Defendants Shane and Trina Beattie appealed a superior court orderthat dismissed with prejudice their preliminary objection challenging the State’s taking of 0.93 acres of their land in fee simple, as well as permanent and temporary easements. The Beatties argued the trial court erred when, in dismissing their preliminary objection which challenged the necessity and net-public benefit of the taking, the trial court applied the fraud or gross mistake standard of review set forth in RSA chapter 230 rather than a de novo standard pursuant to RSA chapter 498-A. The State contended the trial court did not err because RSA chapter 230, not RSA chapter 498-A governed the outcome of the case. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the Beatties, reversed and remanded. View "New Hampshire v. Beattie" on Justia Law

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The New Hampshire House of Representatives certified a question of law to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The House asked a single question: whether holding a House session remotely, either wholly or in part, whereby a quorum could be determined electronically, would violated Part II, Article 20, of the New Hampshire Constitution. The Supreme Court responded in the negative. "As long as the requisite number of representatives is 'present,' either in person or virtually, meaning that the requisite number is 'at hand' and '[n]ot absent,' Part II, Article 20 is satisfied." View "Request for an Opinion of the Justices (Quorum under Part II, Article 20)" on Justia Law