January 16, 2014, Argued
Under New Hampshire procedural rule this decision is subject to motion for rehearing, as well as formal revision before publication in the New Hampshire reports.
Reversed and remanded.
Joseph A. Foster, attorney general ( Elizabeth C. Woodcock, assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State.
Thomas Barnard, assistant appellate defender, of Concord, on the brief and orally, for the defendant.
DALIANIS, C.J. HICKS, CONBOY, and BASSETT, JJ., concurred; LYNN, J., dissented.
Dalianis, C.J. Following a jury trial in Superior Court ( Vaughan, J.), the defendant, Ashley Hayward, was convicted of one count of accomplice to robbery. See RSA 626:8 (2007); RSA 636:1 (2007). At trial, she asserted a duress defense, claiming that she was coerced into participating in the robbery by threats made against her by Tyler Dodge, her boyfriend and a co-participant in the robbery. On appeal, she argues that the trial court erred in precluding her from introducing evidence of Dodge's past threatening and violent behavior. We reverse and remand.
The jury could have found the following facts. On the night of January 9, 2012, the defendant and Dodge were visiting Dodge's friend, Marvin Jones, at Jones's residence in Arlington, Massachusetts. At some point, Jones, Dodge, and the defendant drove north in the defendant's vehicle to the Baymont Inn in Lebanon, where the defendant had briefly been employed for a period ending about one month earlier. At approximately 12:30 a.m. on January 10, Dodge and Jones entered the lobby of the Baymont Inn with their faces obscured and robbed the front desk clerk of $220. They then returned to the defendant's car, where she was waiting, and all three drove away.
On January 18, 2012, officers from the Lebanon Police Department interviewed the defendant about the robbery. The defendant appeared upset, but denied knowledge of the robbery. When confronted with evidence of her involvement during a second interview later that day, the defendant initially denied participating in the robbery, but ultimately confessed to driving Dodge and Jones to and from the Baymont Inn. She explained that Dodge had threatened to " beat the shit out of her" if she did not drive them. During both interviews, the defendant cried and appeared scared and upset. She explained that Dodge was trying to change his life, but " was getting out of control." She told the officers that Dodge had difficulty managing his anger and that he would get angry at her very quickly. The defendant also explained that Dodge was very controlling, that " it was his way or the ... highway," and that they had gotten into a fight over Dodge's intent to commit the robbery. During this interview, the defendant told the officers that if she had not driven Dodge to the robbery, he would have taken her car and " that would have been more of a fight," and that she was " afraid [she] was going to get hurt and so [she] did what he asked." She also stated that she did not call 911 because she did not want Dodge to go to jail and because she did not want to be implicated in the robbery.
The following day, the defendant was interviewed a third time. In that interview, she explained to officers that Dodge wanted to commit the robbery in part because they had no money and were hungry, and he wanted to buy the defendant food. She also said that she thought that she, Dodge, and Jones were going to Newport, New Hampshire to visit family, but that after reaching a toll booth in New Hampshire, Dodge stated that he wanted to rob the Baymont Inn.
Additionally, at some time during her interviews, the defendant told the officers that, in the past, Dodge threatened her when she did not do as he asked -- including putting a knife to her throat.
Before trial, the State filed a motion in limine requesting, in pertinent part, that the trial court preclude the defendant from arguing the defense of duress during trial. The State's motion was based solely upon the evidence it presumed the defendant would seek to admit regarding Dodge's threats on the night of the robbery. The State argued that those threats were inadmissible because the defendant had " multiple alternatives at her disposal to avoid committing the criminal act." The State argued that the defendant could not meet her burden of showing duress by a preponderance of the evidence, and that the court, therefore, should preclude all evidence of duress. The defendant objected to the motion, referencing not only the threats that Dodge made against her on the night of the robbery, but also referencing his prior threats and violence against her, including putting a knife to her throat. She asserted that such evidence entitled her to an instruction on the defense of duress.
The court addressed the State's motion on the day the trial began. After hearing arguments from the parties, the court ruled that the defendant could introduce evidence regarding Dodge's threats against her on the night of the robbery, including his threat to beat her " if she didn't drive him to the Baymont for the robbery." However, the court excluded evidence of Dodge's prior threats and acts of violence against the defendant, including the incident in which he held a knife to her throat. The court explained the basis for its decision as follows:
[A]s far as prior incidents, I think, my view of the case law is pretty clear. You can't reach back and pick up things in the past. I mean, as a practical matter, this woman, if she was at some point previously threatened, could have left her companion and gone someplace else. So she stuck with him.
And the case law, the two cases we have in New Hampshire focus on the event itself. And that's the testimony, if it comes in, that I would allow to come in, not the prior incidents.
The court deferred ruling on whether it would permit the jury to consider the duress defense until the close of the evidence, at which time it ruled that the evidence was sufficient to warrant an instruction on the ...