Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Defendant Adrien Stillwell was convicted by jury on one count of first degree murder, one count of second degree murder, and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Paulson Papillon sold drugs to M.P. and to a confidential informant. Shortly thereafter, police arrested and jailed Papillon for selling drugs to the informant. After Papillon was released, and believing that M.P. was a “snitch” and responsible for his arrest, Papillon offered a bounty for M.P.’s death. Papillon subsequently met with the defendant, Nathanial Smith, and Michael Younge on multiple occasions and discussed killing M.P. Defendant and Smith met Younge at a convenience store; the trio then headed to M.P.’s apartment building, where defendant shot and killed M.P. Shortly thereafter, a neighbor, who had heard “loud bangs” and her trash barrel falling over, found a gun when picking up the trash barrel. Forensic testing established that a bullet recovered from the victim’s body had been fired from the gun. A New Hampshire State Police Forensic Laboratory employee subsequently swabbed the gun for DNA. Police executed a body warrant on defendant at the police department in Manchester, and took a buccal swab of the inside of his mouth for use as a “known sample” for comparison to other evidence. Defendant waived his Miranda rights and spoke with police for approximately forty-five minutes in a recorded interview. After his arrest, defendant shared a jail cell with Scott Collier, and told Collier he had killed M.P., sharing details as to what happened that had not been included in news reports. During a second interview with police, defendant again denied being involved with M.P.’s murder, and denied knowing Papillon, Smith, or Younge. Defendant, Younge, Smith, and Papillon were subsequently indicted for first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. On appeal, defendant argued the superior court erred by: (1) allowing an expert to testify in violation of the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution; (2) admitting the out-of-court statements of an unavailable witness under the statement against penal interest exception to the hearsay rule; and (3) failing to take sua sponte action to address the allegedly improper statements made by the prosecutor during the State’s closing argument. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed defendant’s conviction. View "New Hampshire v. Stillwell" on Justia Law

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Defendant James Castine was convicted by jury of selling a controlled drug. A Rockingham County Drug Task Force confidential informant told police he could purchase heroin from defendant. The informant agreed to conduct three controlled buys from defendant. The drugs purchased from the defendant were tested, and all three samples were determined to contain a mixture of fentanyl and cocaine. Both the CI and the deputy testified that they were unable to differentiate between heroin and fentanyl. On appeal, defendant challenged: (1) the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions; and (2) the trial court’s consideration at sentencing of evidence that he was the leader of a drug enterprise. With respect to (1), the New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that the essence of the defendant’s argument was that the evidence was insufficient because the informant was the only witness who testified that defendant sold him drugs on the three occasions at issue. The defendant claimed that one or the other of two individuals, who were present when the transactions occurred, could have made the sales. Furthermore, defendant argued the trial court should not have considered the evidence presented by the State that suggested a drug scheme beyond the three buys made by the informant. The Supreme Court was not persuaded by defendant’s arguments, finding the evidence was sufficient for a rational trier of fact to have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, defendant was guilty of selling a controlled drug on three occasions. Defendant did not dispute, that, at the time of sentencing, he had been indicted on the drug enterprise charges. “Given the trial court’s knowledge of the indictments, as well as the other information provided by the State, the court had a reliable basis upon which to conclude that the defendant was involved in a drug enterprise that extended beyond the three buys made by the [confidential informant].” Judgment of conviction was affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Castine" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a superior court order pertaining to the conviction of defendant Jonathan Folds' motion to suppress a firearm and motion to dismiss two indictments that alleged he violated the armed career criminal statute. The trial court granted both motions. The State argued the court erred because: (1) the firearm’s seizure satisfied the requirements of the plain view exception to the warrant requirement; and (2) the armed career criminal statute did not require defendant’s qualifying felony convictions to arise from at least three separate criminal episodes. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the armed career criminal indictments, reversed the suppression ruling, and remanded. View "New Hampshire v. Folds" on Justia Law

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The State of New Hampshire filed a petition for original jurisdiction seeking review of a circuit court order denying a request by the Office of the Attorney General (AGO) to release records underlying its investigation into an incident involving minors. According to the AGO, in 2017, there was an incident involving several minors in Claremont, New Hampshire. The AGO, the United States Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Claremont Police Department jointly investigated the incident. Subsequently, the Sullivan County Attorney filed delinquency petitions in the circuit court against one of the juveniles. The AGO asserted that the evidence obtained during the investigation was not confidential under RSA 169-B:35 but, even if it were, “significant policy considerations” allowed disclosure as long as the juvenile’s identity was protected. Following a hearing, the trial court rejected the AGO’s argument that RSA chapter 169-B did not apply to the AGO’s investigatory records. The court stated that “RSA 169-B:35 provides that all case records relative to delinquencies are confidential. Publication of information concerning a juvenile case is strictly prohibited with few legislatively enacted exceptions. None of those exceptions apply in this case.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s ruling that the records were confidential under RSA 169-B:35 (Supp. 2018). View "Petition of the State of New Hampshire" on Justia Law

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Defendant James Jaskolka appealed a circuit court's denial of his request to vacate his 1991 simple assault conviction and grant him a trial. The New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s order, however, because it lacked jurisdiction to consider the merits of the defendant’s motion. View "New Hampshire v. Jaskolka" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Curtis Ridlon was formerly employed as an investment adviser. In April 2017, the New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation (Bureau) brought an administrative enforcement action against Ridlon, alleging that he charged clients approximately $2.8 million in improper fees. The relief sought by the Bureau included civil penalties of up to $3,235,000, restitution in the amount of $1,343,427.20, and disgorgement of up to $1,513,711.09. By agreement of the parties, Ridlon filed a declaratory judgment petition in the trial court asserting that he was constitutionally entitled to a jury trial and seeking to enjoin the administrative proceedings from continuing. In response, the Bureau filed a motion to dismiss. The trial court denied the Bureau’s motion, ruling that Part I, Article 20 of the State Constitution afforded Ridlon the right to a jury trial, and enjoining any further administrative proceedings by the Bureau. The New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed with the superior court’s judgment: “the cases cited by the trial court, and relied upon by Ridlon on appeal for the proposition that claims involving statutory penalties above the constitutional limit obligate a trial by jury, do not address the applicability of the jury trial right under the State Constitution to what we have described as “purely statutory” causes of action. When assessing the right to a jury trial in such circumstances, we have explained that we must “consider the comprehensive nature of the statutory framework to determine whether the jury trial right extends to the action. . . . the statutory procedures established by the legislature for the regulation of securities ‘militate[ ] against any implication of a trial by jury.’” The trial court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ridlon v. New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation" on Justia Law

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Defendant Bryon Whitney appealed a superior court order that remanded his case to the circuit court on grounds that, because he was convicted of a class B misdemeanor in circuit court, the superior court lacked jurisdiction over the appeal from the circuit court. Defendant was charged in circuit court with resisting arrest or detention. Following a bench trial, defendant was found guilty and sentenced to pay a 500 fine, plus penalty assessment. Defendant filed an appeal with the superior court under RSA 599:1, seeking a de novo jury trial. Because the superior court’s jurisdiction to hear de novo appeals from circuit court was conferred by statute, determining the jurisdiction of the superior court in this case was a matter of statutory interpretation, which presented a question of law subject to the New Hampshire Supreme Court's de novo review. Defendant argued he was charged with a class A misdemeanor in the circuit court and, thus, the superior court erred in remanding the case back to the circuit court, rather than providing him with a jury trial. He further argued that by classifying the offense as a class B misdemeanor, the superior court effectively violated his statutory right to appeal to superior court for a de novo jury trial. The Supreme Court determined that when a defendant is charged with a class A misdemeanor in circuit court, but the sentence does not include a period of incarceration and, pursuant to RSA 625:9, VIII (2016), the court records the conviction and sentence as a class B misdemeanor. Defendant would then still have a right to a de novo jury trial in superior court. The Court concluded those circumstances were not present here: because defendant was charged with a class B misdemeanor in circuit court, he was never exposed to the imposition of class A misdemeanor penalties and was, therefore, not entitled to a de novo jury trial. View "New Hampshire v. Whitney" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jonathan Woodbury appealed his convictions and sentences on one count of falsifying physical evidence, and two counts of assault by a prisoner. In December 2016, defendant was an inmate at the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility who got involved in a physical altercation with Matthew Moriarty, another inmate at the facility. At the time of the incident, Moriarty was fighting with his cellmate, Terrence Hartley, and had sustained severe injuries. While most of the dispute between Hartley and Moriarty occurred within their cell, at one point during the fight, Moriarty was outside of the cell when the cell door closed, locking him outside. After attempting to get back inside, Moriarty, while bleeding from his face, spit at Hartley through an opening in the cell door. Defendant, who was watching from the common area of the cellblock, came up behind Moriarty and struck him with his fist on the side of the face. Moriarty then swung at and struck defendant, who continued the altercation, twice more striking Moriarty with his fist. Following this exchange, defendant, with the help of another inmate, mopped up Moriarty’s blood from the floor and tables in the common area. Meanwhile, Moriarty went into the bathroom to clean blood from his face. Realizing that he was struggling to breathe, he exited the bathroom to press a button on a callbox located in the common area. This action alerted correctional officers that an incident had occurred and a response team was sent to the cellblock. On appeal, defendant challenged: (1) the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction of falsifying physical evidence; (2) the trial court’s denial of his jury instruction interpreting language in RSA 641:6, I; (3) the trial court’s imposition of multiple sentences on the assault convictions; and (4) the trial court’s failure to sua sponte instruct the jury on the defense of mutual combat. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Woodbury" on Justia Law

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Defendant David Vincelette appealed a the Superior Court decision finding that he committed criminal contempt by violating a January 2016 trial court order that prohibited him from interfering with the Town of Hanover’s efforts to remove debris from a right of way and Town-owned nature preserve. The Town-owned nature preserve was accessed by a deeded right of way that crossed land where defendant resided. In May 2015, the trial court found that the defendant had “placed numerous objects,” including wood pallets, abandoned vehicles, boats, and appliances on the nature preserve and on the right of way such that the right of way was “narrow[ed] . . . to such a width that it is difficult for a vehicle to access the [T]own’s property.” Defendant argued “[t]he court erred by finding that the State presented sufficient evidence that [he] intentionally violated the court’s order.” Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Vincelette" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a superior court order that set aside a jury’s guilty verdict against defendant Jonathan Marden for one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault. The trial court concluded defendant’s trial counsel, who was not his appellate counsel, rendered ineffective assistance of counsel when he failed to object to the testimony of the State’s expert witness, Dr. Gwendolyn Gladstone, a physician specializing in the care of abused or neglected children. The trial court found that, even though Gladstone did not explicitly opine that the complainant had been sexually assaulted, her testimony ran afoul of New Hampshire's general prohibition against offering expert testimony "to prove that a particular child has been sexually abused." The State argued that, even if trial counsel’s conduct fell “below the range of reasonable professional assistance” when he failed to object to Gladstone’s testimony, there was no prejudice. The State argued Gladstone’s testimony was merely cumulative of the testimony by the complainant’s co-workers about the complainant’s emotional state immediately following the alleged assault. The State contended “Gladstone’s testimony simply established that the [complainant] was still having an emotional reaction to the event.” To this, the New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed, concluding Gladstone’s testimony and the inferences that could have been drawn from it — that she believed that the complainant had been sexually assaulted — were not cumulative of the other demeanor evidence because Gladstone, unlike the other trial witnesses, was recognized as an expert. Defense counsel’s failure to object to Gladstone’s testimony on New Hampshire v. Cressey grounds (137 N.H. 402 (1993)) cannot reasonably have been said to have been part of a trial strategy. Therefore, the Court concluded trial counsel’s performance was constitutionally deficient, and affirmed the superior court's order. View "New Hampshire v. Marden" on Justia Law