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State v. O'Connor

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

October 7, 2008

State of New Hampshire
v.
Kyle P. O'Connor

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

The defendant, Kyle P. O'Connor, appeals his conviction on the charge of facilitating an underage alcohol house party. See RSA 644:18. He argues that the trial court erred in failing to dismiss the complaint where the State failed to offer evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that there were five or more unrelated persons under the age of twenty-one at his house. We reverse.

To prevail upon his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, the defendant must prove that no rational trier of fact, viewing all of the evidence and all reasonable inferences from it in the light most favorable to the State, could have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. MacDonald, 156 N.H. 803, 804 (2008). When the evidence is solely circumstantial, it must exclude all rational conclusions except guilt. Id. Under this standard, we still consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the State and examine each evidentiary item in context, not in isolation. Id.

RSA 644:18, III (2007) defines an "underage alcohol house party" as "a gathering of 5 or more people under the age of 21 at any occupied structure, dwelling, or curtilage, who are unrelated to the person who owns such occupied structure, dwelling, or curtilage or has control thereof, where at least one person under the age of 21 unlawfully possesses or consumes an alcoholic beverage."

At the close of its case, the State conceded, "In candor to the court, Your Honor, I can't prove that they were unrelated. That's, that's not, we don't have the evidence of that here today." The State reiterated this point after the defendant argued that the charge should be dismissed: "As, as I've stated, we can't prove that these were unrelated individuals, Your Honor." The court then asked, "Well, I guess that's the question is whether or not, by proved, you mean that you're conceding? Or are you, want the court to make a determination?" The State responded: "We'd prefer the Court makes a determination. But I'm, I'm not going to make an argument to the Court on the issue. I'm just going to leave it to the Court to decide."

Even if we assume without deciding that the State was requesting that the trial court construe the circumstantial evidence presented in such a way as to find that there were five or more underage individuals in the house who were unrelated to the defendant, the only evidence presented was that different sets of parents came to pick up the individuals and that no one had the same last name as the defendant. Even construed in the light most favorable to the State, this evidence was insufficient to rule out all rational conclusions other than that the individuals were unrelated to the defendant.

Accordingly, we reverse.

Reversed.

DALIANIS, DUGGAN and HICKS, JJ., ...


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