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State v. Adams

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

July 6, 2017

State of New Hampshire
v.
Reuben Adams

         The defendant, Reuben Adams, appeals his conviction, following a jury trial in Superior Court (Smukler, J.), on charges of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon. See RSA 631:3, II (2016). He argues that the trial court may have erred by not disclosing certain material that it reviewed in camera. He further argues that the trial court erred by allowing the State to introduce evidence that, at the time of his arrest, he was staying with someone whom he had met in jail. We affirm.

         We first address whether the trial court erred by not disclosing records that it reviewed in camera. Prior to trial, the trial court reviewed confidential internal investigation reports prepared by the Rochester Police Department following the defendant's arrest, and concluded that nothing in the reports was exculpatory or favorable to the defendant. The defendant asks that we review the records to determine if the trial court erred by not disclosing any of them. We review a trial court's decision on the management of discovery and the admissibility of evidence for an unsustainable exercise of discretion. State v. Aldrich, 169 N.H. 345, 354 (2016). Based upon our review of the records, we are satisfied that they contain no information that would have been of assistance to the defense, and that the trial court did not unsustainably exercise its discretion by withholding them. See id.

         We next address whether the trial court erred by allowing the State to introduce evidence that the defendant was staying with someone whom he had met in jail. The State argues, and we agree, that even if the trial court erred by admitting this evidence, the error was harmless.

         To establish that an error was harmless, the State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it did not affect the verdict. State v. Edic, 169 N.H. 580, 588 (2017). An error is harmless if other evidence of the defendant's guilt is of an overwhelming nature, quantity, or weight, and if the evidence that was allegedly improperly admitted is cumulative or inconsequential in relation to the evidence of the defendant's guilt. Id. at 588-89.

         The criminal charges in this case arose out of a December 11, 2013 attempt by several law enforcement officers, including Rochester police officer Ball, to take the defendant into custody on an arrest warrant. The warrant had been issued five months earlier, and the defendant, who testified, admitted that, at the time of the attempted arrest, he was aware of the warrant, and that his plan was not to surrender to law enforcement until after the holidays.

         The defendant had been staying at a residence on Bridge Street in Rochester with John McKenna, the friend whom he had met while in jail. Although the defendant objected to the jury learning that he had met McKenna in jail, arguing that the evidence was not relevant and that it would unfairly prejudice the jury to hear that he befriended persons in jail and associated with them afterwards, at the time that the State elicited this testimony, the defendant had already testified that he was a convicted felon, and the jury had already learned that McKenna was on parole at the time of the attempted arrest.

         When two officers, who were driving a vehicle with no police markings and were in plain clothes, initially approached the defendant to effectuate his arrest, he was in his car in the driveway of the Bridge Street residence; the officers blocked his exit from one of two exit points of the driveway. The defendant testified that he was unaware that they were law enforcement officers, and thought that they might be affiliated with a person to whom McKenna owed money. The defendant then drove in reverse toward the driveway's other exit.

         Ball, who was wearing a police uniform and had drawn his firearm, testified that he had entered the other end of the driveway on foot, that the defendant was traveling rapidly toward him, that the defendant made eye contact with him, and that he had to jump out of the way. The defendant, however, testified that he was not backing out at a high rate of speed, and that he did not notice Ball. Other officers who were present described the defendant as driving in reverse at a high rate of speed and saw Ball jump out of the way, but did not observe Ball in the driveway. Although Ball's cruiser was equipped with a video camera, no portion of this incident was captured on video.

         The incident in the Bridge Street driveway gave rise to the first of three reckless conduct charges, alleging that the defendant placed or may have placed Ball in danger of serious bodily injury by driving his car at him. The jury acquitted the defendant of that charge.

         After the defendant had backed out of the driveway, a pursuit ensued during which the defendant drove up and over a curb to get around an officer who had positioned his vehicle, with his flashing blue lights activated, diagonally across the road so as to partially block it. After the defendant evaded that officer, he turned into a parking lot; Ball followed him into the lot, and other officers blocked the exits to the lot. When Ball saw the defendant turning around, he testified that he got out of his cruiser, pointed his firearm at him, and ordered him to stop. According to Ball, the defendant drove toward him, forcing him to jump back toward his cruiser to avoid getting hit. The defendant admitted that he saw Ball opening his cruiser door as he was driving around the cruiser, but testified that Ball did not exit it. Ball's cruiser camera, which is in a fixed position in the middle of the cruiser's windshield, captured the portion of this incident in which the defendant drove toward Ball's cruiser, and seconds later, showed the cruiser's front end bounce. Ball testified that the moment at which the video showed the hood going down was when he had jumped back into the cruiser. The camera did not, however, capture video of Ball exiting or entering his car, or jumping out of the way of the defendant. The jury viewed the video.

         The incident in the parking lot gave rise to the second reckless conduct charge, alleging that the defendant placed or may have placed Ball in danger of serious bodily injury by driving his car at him a second time. The jury convicted the defendant on this charge.

         With the exits to the parking lot blocked, the defendant revved his engine, drove over a snow bank and sidewalk, and entered an abutting street. He then drove the wrong way on a one-way street and, pursued by Ball and another officer, reached speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. The pursuit was ultimately terminated due to safety concerns, and eventually, the defendant crashed his car, fled on foot, and was found hiding in the rafters of a garage. After a further struggle, the defendant was finally taken into custody.

         The pursuit from the parking lot led to the third reckless conduct charge, alleging that the defendant "placed or may have placed other motorists in danger of serious bodily injury by driving over a traffic island, driving the wrong way on a one-way street, traveling at a high rate of speed, and crossing over the solid yellow line." Ball's cruiser video captured the pursuit. The defendant testified that, after watching the video, he was "mortified [by] the decisions [he] made, " that he "put numerous people at risk" during the pursuit, and that he wanted the jury to find him guilty of that charge. The jury granted his request.

         Upon this record, we conclude that evidence that the defendant met McKenna in jail was inconsequential in relation to the evidence of the defendant's guilt, and was cumulative of evidence admitted without objection. Edic, 169 N.H. at 588-89. The defendant confessed guilt to the third reckless conduct charge, a charge supported by video evidence that corroborated the testimony of the State's witnesses. Moreover, although the video did not show whether Ball had gotten out of his cruiser or had jumped out of the way when the defendant drove toward him in the parking lot, the video showed the defendant driving toward the cruiser and ...


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