Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Petitioner John Doe appealed a superior court order dismissing his petition for declaratory and injunctive relief for failure to state a claim under either RSA 105:13-b (2013) or the New Hampshire Constitution. In April 2016, while employed as a patrol officer by a town police department, Doe was investigated by that department for denying that he wrote in permanent marker on a department rain jacket. Although Doe “was led to believe” he would only receive a “verbal counseling” for what he understood to be a misunderstanding, he later found that the investigation resulted in a one-page written report. In April 2017, after leaving the department, Doe was informed by a letter from the County Attorney’s Office that, from a review of his personnel file, his name was being placed on the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule (EES). Doe did not contest his inclusion on the EES at that time, but later, Doe submitted two requests to remove his name from the EES to the Attorney General’s Office (AGO). Both requests were denied for lack of an “order or other determination” overturning the original finding of misconduct. Citing RSA 105:13-b and his right to due process under the Federal Constitution, Doe filed a petition for declaratory relief and a request for preliminary and permanent injunctions against the AGO, seeking review of his personnel file, removal from the EES, and attorney’s fees. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded RSA 105:13-b, II did not authorize the trial court to review the contents of an officer’s personnel file outside the scope of a particular criminal case. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's ruling on Doe's state constitutional due process issue, and remanded for further proceedings without prejudice to Doe amending his petition given a statutory change. View "Doe v. N.H. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Daniel Richard appealed a superior court order granting defendants' the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and the New Hampshire Senate President, motion to dismiss his complaint seeking equitable relief. Plaintiff sought under Part I, Articles 31 and 32 of the State Constitution: (1) a writ of mandamus to compel the Speaker to assemble the legislature to hear his May 2019 and January 2020 remonstrances; (2) a writ of prohibition to prohibit the Speaker and the Senate President from preventing any document addressed to the legislature from being publicly recorded and heard by the legislature as a whole; and (3) an order preventing the legislature from violating his due process rights. The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s requests for writs of mandamus and prohibition after deciding that his right to relief was not clear under Part I, Articles 31 and 32. The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s due process claim because it found, in part, that the decision not to hear his remonstrances was “rationally related to the legitimate government interest of running the legislature efficiently and economically.” Finding no reversible error in this judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Richard v. Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant Juan Monegro-Diaz was charged with driving with a suspended license. The State appealed a circuit court order granting defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless seizure of defendant and his vehicle. The State argued the circuit court erred by ruling that the seizure violated Part I, Article 19 of the New Hampshire Constitution and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the circuit court properly ruled that the officer who stopped defendant’s vehicle lacked reasonable suspicion that defendant was driving with a suspended license. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "New Hampshire v. Monegro-Diaz" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ernesto Rivera appealed a superior court order denying his motion to vacate his 2020 resentencing on certain of his 2015 convictions. On appeal, he argued the trial court impermissibly “increased” certain of his sentences and that it erred by rejecting his claim that his counsel in the 2020 resentencing procedure was ineffective. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined defendant's due process rights were not violated and that the 2020 sentences were within the trial court’s sound discretion. However, the Court agreed with defendant that had defense counsel objected, and the 2015 sentences for the convictions from defendant’s second trial remained unchanged, the trial court properly could have considered those sentences when deciding whether the new sentences should have been consecutive or concurrent. The parties did not fully brief what showing of prejudice, if any, defendant had to make in this case beyond showing that the trial court should have sustained the objection, had it been made by defense counsel, to resentencing on the second trial convictions. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s ruling on the prejudice prong of the ineffective assistance of counsel test because it was premised upon the court’s erroneous ruling that had defense counsel objected to resentencing on the second trial convictions, the objection would have been properly overruled. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "New Hampshire v. Rivera" on Justia Law

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Defendant Robert Leroux was convicted after a bench trial on one misdemeanor count of driving while his license was suspended as a result of a prior driving while intoxicated conviction. He argued that the circuit court erred by: (1) denying his motion to dismiss based upon the insufficiency of the allegations in the complaint; and (2) allowing the State to introduce certified Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) records for the purpose of establishing his prior DWI conviction. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that, even if the circuit court committed plain error by denying defendant’s motion to dismiss, defendant did not demonstrate that the error was prejudicial. Furthermore, defendant failed to preserve his argument that the court erred by admitting the certified DMV records as evidence of his prior DWI conviction. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Leroux" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Theresa Norelli, Christine Fajardo, Matt Gerding, and Palana Hunt-Hawkins, filed a complaint against the New Hampshire Secretary of State to challenge the constitutionality of New Hampshire’s current congressional districts. Plaintiffs contended the districts were rendered unconstitutionally malapportioned due to population shifts reported by the United States Census Bureau’s 2020 census. This case presented two preliminary questions for the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s review: (1) whether the current statute establishing a district plan for New Hampshire’s two congressional districts violated Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution; and (2) if so, whether the Supreme Court had to establish a new district plan if the legislature failed to do so “according to federal constitutional requisites in a timely fashion after having had an adequate opportunity to do so.” The Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative. In answering the second question, it determined that, upon a demonstrated legislative impasse, the Supreme Court had to establish a new district plan and, in doing so, it would apply the “least change” approach. View "Norelli, et al. v. New Hampshire Sec'y of State" on Justia Law

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Defendant Richard Racette was convicted by jury on four pattern counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault (AFSA). He argued on appeal that the trial court erred by: (1) barring cross-examination about a witness’s prior statement; and (2) failing to dismiss one of the indictments for insufficient evidence. After review of the superior court record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred by barring cross-examination about the witness’s prior statement, and that the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court committed plain error by failing to dismiss one of the indictments for insufficient evidence. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "New Hampshire v. Racette" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Samuel Provenza, formerly employed as a police officer by defendant Town of Canaan (Town), appealed a superior court order: (1) denying his petition for declaratory judgment and “request for temporary and permanent injunctive and other relief”; and (2) granting the cross-claim of the intervenor, the Valley News. Provenza sought to bar public disclosure of an investigative report commissioned by the Town as a result of a motor vehicle stop in which he was involved while still employed by the Town as a police officer; the Valley News sought release of the report under RSA chapter 91-A, the Right-to-Know Law. See RSA ch. 91-A (2013 & Supp. 2021). Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Provenza v. Town of Canaan" on Justia Law

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Defendant Benjamin Mackenzie was convicted by jury on one count of distribution of a controlled drug — fentanyl — with death resulting. He argued on appeal the trial court erred when it: (1) admitted, as habit evidence under New Hampshire Rule of Evidence 406, testimony that the victim had previously purchased opioids from the defendant; and (2) admitted, as “intrinsic” to the charged crime, text messages between a cellphone alleged to belong to the defendant and other apparent drug customers. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Mackenzie" on Justia Law

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Defendant Javon Brown was convicted by jury of misdemeanor domestic violence, for which he was sentenced to twelve months in the house of corrections and fined. Defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred by ruling that evidence of a phone call was admissible when the call was not authenticated as required by New Hampshire Rule of Evidence 901. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Brown" on Justia Law