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State v. Watson

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

May 1, 2018

THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
v.
BRIAN A. WATSON

          Argued: February 28, 2018

          Gordon J. MacDonald, attorney general (Elizabeth C. Woodcock, assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State.

          Sisti Law Offices, of Chichester (Mark L. Sisti on the brief and orally), for the defendant.

          LYNN, C.J.

         The defendant, Brian A. Watson, appeals his conviction by a jury for felony sale of a controlled drug with death resulting. See RSA 318-B:26, IX (2017) (amended 2017). On appeal, he argues that the Superior Court (O'Neill, J.) erred by: (1) denying his motion to suppress statements allegedly obtained in violation of his Miranda rights, see Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966); and (2) allowing a forensic toxicologist, Dr. Daniel Isenschmid, to testify to the results of toxicology tests that he did not conduct. We affirm.

          I

         A

         Because the defendant has not provided, as part of the appellate record, the transcript of the evidentiary hearing held on his motion or all of the exhibits entered at that hearing, we must assume that the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress, and we review its decision only for errors of law. See State v. Woods, 139 N.H. 399, 403 (1995). Accordingly, we accept the following facts recited by the trial court in its order as true.

         The defendant was stopped while driving in Tilton and arrested on an active warrant for sale of a controlled drug. One of the arresting detectives told the defendant that he was going to read him his constitutional rights and then did so using a "Miranda Warning" card. See Miranda, 384 U.S. at 467-73. The card contained a list of five individual rights, and the detective read the defendant each right, one at a time. After reading each right to the defendant, the detective asked him if he understood the right that had been read. The defendant indicated that he understood each right. A second detective then informed the defendant that the police were aware that he had picked up drugs in Manchester earlier that day. The second detective asked the defendant whether his vehicle contained any drugs. The defendant indicated that he was unemployed and was temporarily selling drugs to make ends meet. Neither detective had the defendant complete or sign a waiver of rights form.

         The defendant was then transported to the police station. While the defendant was being booked, one of the detectives asked him whether he wanted to speak with the police. At first, the defendant said that he "wasn't sure." A few moments later, the detective again asked the defendant whether he wanted to speak with the police, and he agreed to do so.

         The detectives then brought the defendant into a small interview room containing a table and three chairs. The defendant was not handcuffed during the interview and did not seem overly emotional or angry. The detectives estimated that no more than 30 minutes elapsed between the defendant's initial arrest and the police station interview. The interview lasted approximately 30 minutes.

The interview began with the following exchange:
[Detective]: Brian, you are here at the police department. You are in custody. You were arrested today for sales of a controlled drug. You were arrested on the side of the road. During that time, . . . I did go over your constitutional rights with you, correct?
DEFENDANT: Yes.
[Detective]: Okay, and you understood all of those rights at the time?
DEFENDANT: Yeah.
[Detective]: And understanding those rights, you're willing to sit here and hear what we have to say, correct?
DEFENDANT: Yep.
[Detective]: Okay.

         At first, the interview focused upon the sale of a controlled drug charge. During this part of the interview, the defendant made several potentially inculpatory statements regarding that charge. However, midway through the interview, the detective showed the defendant a photograph of a dead body and indicated that the police had evidence that the individual had died as a result of drugs that the defendant had sold to him. The rest of the interview focused upon the defendant's potential involvement in the individual's death. During this part of the interview, the defendant made several inculpatory statements regarding the sale of a controlled drug with death resulting charge. He was arrested on that charge after the interview concluded.

         B

         On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court erred by failing to suppress his inculpatory statements because, he contends, they were obtained in violation of his Miranda rights. In so arguing, the defendant invokes his state and federal constitutional rights against compelled self-incrimination. See N.H. CONST. pt. I, art. 15; U.S. CONST. amends. V, XIV. We first address the defendant's claim under the State Constitution and rely upon federal law only to aid our analysis. State v. Ball, 124 N.H. 226, 231-33 (1983).

         The New Hampshire Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant protection from compelled self-incrimination. State v. Roache, 148 N.H. 45, 48 (2002); see N.H. CONST. pt. I, art. 15. Although neither the Federal nor the State Constitution requires "any specific code of procedures for protecting the privilege against self-incrimination during custodial interrogation, " both the United States Supreme Court and this court have developed rules for safeguarding that privilege. Roache, 148 N.H. at 48 (quotation omitted). "Thus, when a person is taken into custody or deprived of his freedom in any significant way, and prior to interrogating him, the police must tell him that he has a right to remain silent, that anything he says can and will be used against him, and that he has a right to counsel." Id.; see Miranda, 384 U.S. at 467-73. If the person asserts any of those rights, all questioning must cease. Roache, 148 N.H. at 48; see Miranda, 384 U.S. at 473-74.

         "While these so-called Miranda warnings are not themselves rights protected by the Constitution, they are procedural safeguards necessary to dissipate the atmosphere of compulsion inherent in a custodial interrogation." Roache, 148 N.H. at 48 (quotation and citation omitted); see Miranda, 384 U.S. at 467. Accordingly, "[b]efore a statement can be admitted into evidence, the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was apprised of his or her constitutional rights and that the subsequent waiver was voluntary, knowing and intelligent." State v. Pyles, 166 N.H. 166, 168 (2014) (quotation omitted).

         The defendant first asserts that the trial court erred when it found that he voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his Miranda rights. A waiver need not be express to be valid. State v. Duffy, 146 N.H. 648, 650 (2001). "Rather, we must ascertain whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the defendant's understanding of his rights coupled with his conduct supports the trial court's ruling that he otherwise voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his rights beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. (quotation omitted). "[W]e will not reverse the trial court's finding on the issue of waiver unless the ...


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