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State v. Barton

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

April 10, 2018

State of New Hampshire
v.
Joseph Barton

         The defendant, Joseph Barton, appeals his conviction, following a bench trial in the Circuit Court (LeFrancois, J.), of resisting arrest. See RSA 642:2 (2016). He argues that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he knew that: (1) the investigator who sought to arrest him was a law enforcement official; and (2) he was being arrested. We affirm.

         To prevail on his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, the defendant must demonstrate that no rational trier of fact, viewing all of the evidence and all reasonable inferences from it in the light most favorable to the State, could have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Collyns, 166 N.H. 514, 517 (2014). When the defendant presents evidence after having challenged the sufficiency of the evidence at the close of the State's case, we consider the entirety of the evidence presented. State v. Hill, 163 N.H. 394, 395-96 (2012). Our review is de novo. Collyns, 166 N.H. at 517.

         Pursuant to RSA 642:2, a person is guilty of resisting arrest when he "knowingly or purposely physically interferes with a person recognized to be a law enforcement official . . . seeking to effect an arrest or detention of the person . . . regardless of whether there is a legal basis for the arrest."

         The defendant argues that he did not know that the official who sought to effect the arrest, an investigator from the Attorney General's Office, was a law enforcement official because, at the time of the arrest, the official was wearing a business suit, and he had been called to resolve a legal dispute about voting requirements, not to respond to a criminal complaint. The State asserts that the defendant failed to preserve this issue for review. We will assume, without deciding, that the issue is preserved.

         To support a conviction for resisting arrest, the State must prove that the defendant subjectively knew that the individual seeking to effect the arrest was a law enforcement official. State v. Reid, 134 N.H. 418, 422 (1991). Circumstantial evidence may be used to establish, through inference, the defendant's knowledge that the individual seeking to effect the arrest was a law enforcement official. Id. at 422-23. To prevail on a sufficiency of the evidence challenge when the evidence as to one or more elements of the charged offense is solely circumstantial, the defendant must establish that the evidence does not exclude all reasonable conclusions except guilt. State v. Germain, 165 N.H. 350, 361 (2013), modified in part on other grounds by State v. King, 168 N.H. 340, 345 (2015). The proper analysis is not whether every possible conclusion consistent with innocence has been excluded, but, rather, whether all reasonable conclusions based upon the evidence have been excluded. Id. "Thus, we evaluate the evidence in the light most favorable to the State and determine whether the alternative conclusion is sufficiently reasonable that a rational juror could not have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Houghton, 168 N.H. 269, 271 (2015).

         The record shows that the arrest occurred on election day, November 4, 2014, at the town hall in the Town of Newmarket. The defendant testified that he arrived that morning in the town hall basement, where voting was taking place, to engage in "poll challenging." He described his role as one in which he "report[ed] any discrepancies" to town officials whenever it appeared to him that a voter did not have the "criteria necessary to vote." The defendant testified that "there was a new law, " and that he "wanted to make sure that . . . the ballot clerks were aware of it." During the day, while voting was underway, the defendant expressed his concern to the town moderator that "the ballot clerks weren't asking for photo identification or requiring the necessary affidavit be . . . filled out." The defendant testified that, at some stage, he and the town clerk "had a disagreement in an interpretation of law and how it was applied, " and that he had asked the clerk to contact the Attorney General's Office so that he could speak with an attorney to resolve the matter.

         The investigator who responded to the town clerk's telephone call to the Attorney General's Office testified that, on the date of the incident, he was a certified law enforcement officer employed in the Attorney General's Office. After the investigator introduced himself to the defendant, the defendant asked the town clerk if he and the investigator could use the town council chambers to discuss the voting laws. The clerk led them upstairs to the council chambers on the third floor and left.

         The investigator testified that when he and the defendant sat down in the council chambers, he again identified himself, gave the defendant his business card, and put his investigator's badge from the Attorney General's Office on the table. The investigator testified that he and the defendant "had a cordial conversation" initially, but that the defendant became angry because he did not agree with the investigator's position regarding the voting laws. The defendant testified that the investigator became "agitated because I asked him to . . . review the statutes." The defendant testified that he told the investigator that he was "done with the conversation" . . . "put [his] jacket on and proceeded to leave the town council chambers, " and that the investigator told him that "if I went back to poll challenging . . . he would have me arrested for disorderly conduct."

         The investigator testified that when the defendant questioned his authority to order him not to return to the voting area, he told the defendant that he had such authority "as a police officer." The investigator testified that as the defendant left the room and started walking toward the stairs, he followed him, and "told him again that if he went downstairs, he was going to be arrested." Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, we conclude that a rational fact-finder could have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant knew that the investigator who sought to arrest him was a law enforcement official. See Germain, 165 N.H. at 361-62.

         The defendant also argues that the evidence was insufficient to find him guilty of resisting arrest because he did not know that the officer was seeking to effect an arrest or detention. The phrase "seeking to effect an arrest or detention" includes "the entire course of events during which law enforcement officers seek to secure and maintain physical control of an individual." State v. Lindsey, 158 N.H. 703, 706 (2009).

         The investigator testified that, when the defendant ignored his order not to return to the voting area and continued walking down the stairs, he "grabbed onto [the defendant's] jacket." The defendant "immediately turned, tried to knock [the investigator's] hand away with his hand, " and said "keep your hands off me." The investigator then "grabbed [the defendant] with both hands on his jacket" and pushed him outside through a stairwell door. The investigator further testified that, "I told him twice while we were outside, once as we were standing against the building wrestling toward the ground, and once on the ground[, ] that he was under arrest." The investigator testified, "I know when somebody's fighting back, " and that the defendant "was clearly fighting back." The investigator testified that, once the defendant was on the ground, he tucked his hands under his body to prevent the investigator from being able to handcuff him.

         Officer Jordan of the Newmarket Police Department, who was off duty and not in uniform, tried to help the investigator restrain the defendant by "grabb[ing] ahold of one of [the defendant's] arms" and "straddling his legs." Chief Walsh of the Rye Police Department, who was also off duty, testified that he heard the investigator tell the defendant that he was under arrest. Walsh testified that he arrived after Jordan and tried to get the defendant to calm down, but that it took several attempts before the defendant complied. Officer Stevens of the Newmarket Police Department, who was on duty and in uniform, arrived after Walsh and was able to handcuff the defendant. Jordan testified that it took all four officers to subdue the defendant sufficiently to be able to place the handcuffs on him. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, we conclude that a rational fact-finder could have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant understood that he was being arrested. See Germain, 165 N.H. at 361-62.

         Affirmed.

          HICKS, BASSETT, and HANTZ ...


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