Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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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

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Defendant Justin Parr appealed his conviction following a superior court bench trial on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant argued the superior court erred in denying his motion to dismiss his felon in possession of a firearm indictment because, in his view, RSA 159:3, I(a) did not prohibit felons from possessing antique pistols and revolvers. Defendant also argued that several provisions of RSA chapter 159 were unconstitutionally vague in violation of the State and Federal Constitutions. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the term “other firearm” in RSA 159:3, I(a) applied to any weapon from which a shot could be discharged by gunpowder, including antique firearms. The Court further concluded RSA 159:3, I(a) was not unconstitutionally vague as applied to felons in possession of antique firearms. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Parr" on Justia Law

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Defendant Roger Dana was convicted by jury of first degree murder, for which he received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by admitting hearsay evidence, and by failing to give the false-exculpatory-statement jury instruction that the defendant requested. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence. View "New Hampshire v. Dana" on Justia Law

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The State of New Hampshire petitioned in the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction for review of certain protective orders against defendants Nicholas Fuchs, Jacob Johnson, and Jeffrey Hallock-Saucier. This petition for arose from three separate criminal cases, each against one of the defendants. In each case, the State determined that it was required to provide the defendant with information from one or more police officer’s personnel files because the information was potentially exculpatory. Citing the court’s authority under New Hampshire Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(8), the State filed a motion for a protective order of discovery materials in each case, seeking an order that would prohibit “Defense Counsel . . . from sharing or further disseminating these confidential documents and the confidential information contained therein with anyone other than Defense Counsel’s staff and the Defendant.” Counsel for each defendant assented to the proposed protective order appended to the State’s motion although, after the court denied those motions, Johnson filed a notice that “he no longer assents to the State’s motions for protective orders.” In the cases against Fuchs and Johnson, the court denied the motions, by margin order, without prejudice. In each case, the court opined that the material may constitute public records subject to disclosure under the Right- to-Know Law unless, for specific or particularized reasons, their disclosure would result in an invasion of privacy. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in its interpretation of RSA 105:13-b. The Court also concluded the trial court erred in failing to find good cause for the issuance of protective orders in these cases. Given the confidentiality accorded police personnel files by RSA 105:13-b, the Supreme Court held the State has shown good cause, as a matter of law, for the issuance of protective orders in the cases at issue here. View "Petition of the State of New Hampshire" on Justia Law

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Defendant Justin Gunnip was convicted by jury on one count of falsifying physical evidence, and one count of conspiracy to commit assault. In August 2019, defendant was an inmate at the Sullivan County House of Corrections. On August 17, 2019, another inmate at the facility was assaulted. The room in which the assault occurred was monitored by surveillance cameras capable of capturing video footage of the entire room. The digital recording was saved to a server, which was inaccessible to inmates. The footage from the day of the assault showed the victim sitting on a bench watching television when defendant and several other inmates entered the room. Defendant approached one of the cameras and held paper in front of the lens, obstructing the camera’s view of the room. When defendant removed the paper, the victim was injured and lying on the floor. The State appealed the trial court’s order setting aside defendant’s falsifying physical evidence conviction, arguing the trial court erred as a matter of law by concluding that defendant did not violate RSA 641:6, I, when he held the paper in front of the camera. In reaching its decision, the trial court interpreted the word “thing” in RSA 641:6, I, as synonymous with “physical evidence” and determined that, under the statute, the “thing” at issue “must exist” in order for the defendant to falsify it. Concluding that the “thing” at issue here was “the recording maintained on the server in the facility’s data room,” the court further determined that “[t]here was no evidence the recording was altered and, in fact, the State used [the recording] as an exhibit to prove [defendant’s] role as a conspirator precisely because it accurately portrayed his conduct in connection with the assault.” Thus, the court ruled that the evidence was insufficient to prove that defendant altered, destroyed, concealed, or removed the recording in violation of the statute. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's decision, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Gunnip" on Justia Law