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State v. Michon

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

October 9, 2012

State of New Hampshire
v.
Kevin Michon

ORDER

The defendant, Kevin Michon, appeals his conviction for driving after revocation or suspension. He argues that the trial court erred in excluding evidence that he had received a letter from the Manchester District Court that the period of his license revocation had been reduced from twelve to seven months. We affirm.

We briefly set forth the relevant facts in this case. The defendant's license was revoked for twelve months in August 2009 after he pleaded guilty to a driving while intoxicated charge. The 2009 sentencing order indicated that he could "seek the return of his license/privilege to drive after 7 months" provided that he entered into an approved driver intervention program within a specified period of time. On March 25, 2010, the Manchester District Court sent a letter to defense counsel indicating that the defendant's license revocation had been reduced from twelve months to seven months.

In April 2010, the defendant was stopped and charged with the offense of operating after suspension. See RSA 263:64, IV (Supp. 2011). Following a bench trial in Candia District Court, he was found guilty. He appealed his conviction to the superior court. Prior to trial, the State filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude admission of the Manchester District Court letter, arguing, inter alia, that: (1) the letter was irrelevant; (2) it was confusing; and (3) it was sent to defense counsel rather than the defendant. The trial court granted the motion in limine, finding that the letter was irrelevant and would "confuse the jury as to the issues presented in the case."

We afford trial courts broad discretion to determine the admissibility of evidence. State v. Oakes, 161 N.H. 270, 280 (2010). We review challenges to a trial court's evidentiary ruling under our unsustainable exercise of discretion standard and reverse only if the ruling is clearly untenable or unreasonable to the prejudice of the party's case. Id.

RSA 263:64, I, provides: "No person shall drive a motor vehicle in this state while the person's driver's license or privilege to drive is suspended or revoked by action of the director or the justice of any court in this state, or competent authority in the out-of-court jurisdiction where the license was issued." RSA 263:64, V defines 'period of suspension or revocation' to "include the period specifically designated and until the restoration of the person's driver's license or privilege to drive." The State concedes that to convict the defendant under the charged statute, the State "had to show that the defendant drove knowing that his license was under revocation or suspension." See, e.g., State v. Curran, 140 N.H. 530, 532 (1995).

The defendant argues that the letter was relevant to the issue of whether he knew that he drove during the period of his license revocation. See N.H. R. Ev. 401 (relevant evidence is "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence"). He contends that although his license "had not been restored when he was stopped on April 7, 2010, a reasonable jury could have found that he was guilty of the lesser included offense of driving after suspension under RSA 263:64, VII where the state was unable to prove the knowing mental state required by RSA 263:64, IV."

Even if we assume without deciding that, on its face, the Manchester District Court letter might have some relevance to the defendant's mental state, we conclude that the trial court's decision to exclude it from evidence is sustainable. As we have repeatedly held, ignorance of the law is no excuse. State v. Stratton, 132 N.H. 451, 457 (1989) ("'It is elementary, as well as indispensable to the orderly administration of justice, that every man is presumed to know the laws of the country in which he dwells, and also to intend the necessary and legitimate consequences of what he knowingly does.'").

The language of the applicable statute provides that the period of a license revocation does not end "until the restoration of the person's driver's license or privilege to drive." Moreover, in this case, after revoking the defendant's license, the 2009 sentencing order specifically provided: "However, the defendant shall not operate a motor vehicle until the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles restores his license or right to operate."

Affirmed.

HICKS, LYNN and BASSETT, JJ, concurred. ...


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