Argued: February 19, 2015
2nd Circuit Court - Plymouth District Division
Joseph A. Foster, attorney general (Lisa L. Wolford, assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State.
Christopher M. Johnson, chief appellate defender, of Concord, on the brief and orally, for the defendant.
The State appeals an order of the Circuit Court (Rappa, J.) that dismissed a criminal mischief charge on the ground that it was time-barred by the statute of limitations. We reverse and remand.
The following facts are not in dispute. On December 21, 2011, Lincoln police prepared a complaint charging the defendant, Jeffrey Maxfield, with criminal mischief, a class A misdemeanor offense. See RSA 634:2 (Supp. 2014). The complaint alleged that on December 14, the defendant had recklessly damaged another's property at Parker's Motel in Lincoln. A justice of the peace issued an arrest warrant one week later, but the defendant was not arrested until August 6, 2013. The State filed the complaint in court on August 9, three days after the defendant's arrest.
On September 19, 2013, the defendant moved to dismiss the charge, arguing that the delay between the issuance of the arrest warrant and his arrest violated his rights to a speedy trial, due process, and fundamental fairness under both the New Hampshire and United States Constitutions. The trial court denied this motion on November 6, 2013. The defendant filed a motion to reconsider, which the court likewise denied. The defendant then filed a second motion to dismiss, arguing that the charge was barred by the one-year statute of limitations applicable to misdemeanor level offenses. See RSA 625:8, I(c) (Supp. 2014). On December 5, 2013, the trial court granted the defendant's second motion to dismiss. In denying the State's motion to reconsider, the trial court stated that it "was unreasonable for there to be a delay of eighteen months between the commencement of prosecution and the commencement of the adversarial proceeding." This appeal followed.
On appeal, the State argues that the one-year period of limitations that applied to the defendant's criminal mischief charge was not violated and that the trial court erred in applying a reasonableness standard because the plain language of RSA 625:8, V (Supp. 2014) states merely that "[a] prosecution is commenced on the day when a warrant . . . is issued, " and does not provide for an inquiry into whether the warrant was executed in a reasonable amount of time. The defendant responds that although the State's interpretation of the statute is "literal, " it "is ultimately not reasonable." For this reason, the defendant asks us to construe RSA 625:8, V as requiring, when the State relies upon the issuance of an arrest warrant to toll the statute of limitations, "that the warrant be executed no later than a reasonable time after the expiration of the limitations period."
To resolve this issue, we must engage in statutory interpretation. "Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which we review de novo." Appeal of Local Gov't Ctr., 165 N.H. 790, 804 (2014). "In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole." Id. "We first look to the language of the statute itself, and, if possible, construe that language according to its plain and ordinary meaning." Id. "We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include." Id. "We construe all parts of a statute together to effectuate its overall purpose and avoid an absurd or unjust result." Id. "Moreover, we do not consider words and phrases in isolation, but rather within the context of the statute as a whole." Id. "This enables us to better discern the legislature's intent and to interpret statutory language in light of the policy or purpose sought to be advanced by the statutory scheme." Id.
RSA 625:8 provides, in relevant part, that:
I. Except as otherwise provided in this section, prosecutions are subject to the following periods of limitations:
(c) For a misdemeanor, one year;
IV. Time begins to run on the day after all elements of an offense ...