Supreme Court At-a-Glance Contributor Katherine E. Hedges, An associate at Hage Hodes in Manchester practicing civil litigation and corporate law.

No. 2020-0165

Dec. 14, 2021

Affirmed.

 

  • Whether the trial court erred in excluding evidence that the victim had sold drugs to an individual that paid with counterfeit money about a month before her death and whether the trail court erred by failing to order the disclosure of certain redacted records after in camera review.

 

The defendant was convicted of reckless manslaughter, while being acquitted of first- and second-degree murder charges, after a jury trial. The jury could have found that the defendant arranged to purchase marijuana from the victim. Before completing the purchase, the defendant ran away with the marijuana. The victim believed that the defendant was trying to steal the marijuana and chased the defendant. In an ensuing physical altercation, the victim was stabbed three times, including once in her heart, which caused her death. Witnesses claimed the defendant stabbed the victim, while the defendant denied that claim.

The State moved to exclude evidence of the victim’s prior drug activity and information recovered from her cell phone. This included evidence related to a prior drug sale to another party in which the victim was paid with counterfeit money. The defendant argued the evidence was relevant to his self-defense claim. He argued it showed that the victim likely acted more aggressively towards him when she believed he was stealing from her, which made it more likely that he had to defend himself. The trial court excluded the evidence.

The trial court had excluded the evidence as irrelevant under N.H. R. Ev. 401, but, on appeal, the Court interpreted the exclusion to alternatively have been done pursuant to N.H. R. Ev. 403. The Court found that even if the drug sale was relevant to the defendant’s self-defense claim, it was properly excluded pursuant to N.H. R. Ev. 403. The evidence only went to the victim’s state of mind, which was not a primary element of the self-defense claim; meanwhile, it also could confuse the jury by allowing evidence of an unrelated drug sale to be considered.

The Court also found that it was not an error for the trial court to have denied the defendant’s request to compel records it reviewed in camera. The State redacted certain portions of documents related to forensic testing on work product grounds. After in camera review, the trial court ordered disclosure of parts of the records, while allowing others to remain redacted. On appeal, the Court reviewed the information that was not disclosed and found it was work product or otherwise not subject to discovery. None of the withheld information was found to be material or exculpatory. The conviction was affirmed.

 

John M. Formella, attorney general (Nicole M. Clay, assistant attorney general, on the brief and Benjamin Agati, senior assistant attorney general, orally), for the State. Thomas Barnard, senior assistant appellate defender, Concord, for the defendant.