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State v. Aldrich

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

August 30, 2016

THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
v.
DAVID ALDRICH

          Argued: May 11, 2016

         Grafton

          Joseph A. Foster, attorney general (Sean P. Gill, attorney, on the brief and orally), for the State.

          Thomas Barnard, senior assistant appellate defender, of Concord, on the brief and orally, for the defendant.

          HICKS, J.

         The defendant, David Aldrich, appeals his conviction, following a jury trial in Superior Court (MacLeod, J.), on two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault. See RSA 632-A:2, I(j) (2007). The defendant challenges the trial court's ruling preventing him from cross-examining the victim about three of four allegedly false allegations of sexual assault that she had made against other men. He also challenges the court's failure to disclose material following an in camera review. We affirm.

         The record supports the following facts. The defendant was charged with nine counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and three counts of incest, based upon events occurring between 1995 and 2002. The three counts of incest and seven of the nine counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault were dismissed. The remaining two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault concerned alleged conduct from July 1998 to July 1999 and July 2000 to May 2001, when the victim was older than thirteen but younger than sixteen.

         The defendant filed a motion in limine requesting, among other things, permission to cross-examine the victim about prior allegedly false allegations of sexual assault. At a pretrial motions hearing, the defendant proffered that, in several interviews with police, the victim made allegations of sexual assault or other misconduct against A.A., V.A., G.B., and M.G. According to the defendant, "[e]ach man has denied these false allegations, " and, "at least one witness, [E.W.], contradicts [the victim's] allegations of sexual assault by [G.B.]." The defendant argued that New Hampshire Rule of Evidence 608(b) and his state and federal constitutional rights to confrontation entitled him to this cross-examination. See U.S. CONST. amends. VI, XIV; N.H. CONST. pt. I, art. 15.

         The State argued that "the probative value of these 'false accusations' is outweighed by the danger of misleading the jury or in the alternative, confusion of the issues, " and that "the defendant has failed to demonstrate that the prior allegations were indeed false." The State explained that the victim never recanted the allegations and there was no evidence before the court showing that the allegations were false.

         The trial court granted the defendant's motion in part and denied it in part. The court allowed the defendant to cross-examine the victim about her allegations against A.A., stating that "such cross-examination is sufficiently probative given the unique facts of this case and not outweighed by substantial prejudice, " and that "[t]his is particularly so given the undisputed fact that the [victim] falsely testified in a prior case regarding [A.A.]." However, the court denied the defendant's request to cross-examine the victim about her allegations against V.A., G.B., and M.G., ruling that "[t]he factors set forth in [State v. Miller, 155 N.H. 246 (2007)] weigh against permitting such cross-examination."

         On appeal, the defendant argues that the court misapplied New Hampshire Rules of Evidence 608(b) and 403 and violated his state and federal constitutional rights to confrontation. See U.S. CONST. amends. VI, XIV; N.H. CONST. pt. I, art. 15.

         We first hold that the trial court correctly applied the evidentiary rules. A trial court has broad discretion to determine the scope of cross-examination or the admissibility of evidence, and we will not upset its ruling absent an unsustainable exercise of discretion. State v. Kornbrekke, 156 N.H. 821, 823-24 (2008). To prevail under this standard, the defendant must demonstrate that the trial court's decision was clearly untenable or unreasonable to the prejudice of his case. Id. at 824.

          New Hampshire Rule of Evidence 608(b) provides, in pertinent part:

Specific instances of the conduct of a witness, for the purpose of attacking or supporting the witness' credibility, other than conviction of crime as provided in Rule § 609, may not be proved by extrinsic evidence. They may, however, in the discretion of the court, if probative of truthfulness or untruthfulness, be inquired into on cross examination of the witness (1) concerning the witness' character for truthfulness or untruthfulness . . . .

         Under this rule, we consider whether the trial court accurately gauged the probative value of the defendant's proposed line of cross-examination. See Kornbrekke, ...


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