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State v. Serpa

Supreme Court of New Hampshire, Strafford

May 24, 2018

THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
v.
BAILEY P. SERPA

          Argued: January 18, 2018

          Gordon J. MacDonald, attorney general (Sean R. Locke, assistant attorney general, on the memorandum of law and orally), for the State.

          Samdperil & Welsh, PLLC, of Exeter (Richard E. Samdperil on the brief and orally), for the defendant.

          LYNN, C.J.

         The defendant, Bailey P. Serpa, appeals an order of the Superior Court (Howard, J.), requiring him to register as a sexual offender. On appeal, the defendant argues that registration as a sexual offender for a conviction of violating RSA 649-B:4 is contrary to the manifest objectives of RSA 632-A:4 and violates constitutional requirements that all penalties be proportional to the offense. We affirm.

         The pertinent facts follow. In March 2015, the defendant was indicted on a charge of using a computer online service or internet service to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice a child to engage in sexual assault, contrary to RSA 649-B:4 (2016). At the time of the underlying conduct, the victim was 15 years old, and the defendant was 18 years old.

         The defendant entered into a written felony diversion agreement (diversion agreement) with the State. Pursuant to the diversion agreement, the State would dismiss the charge against the defendant if he abided by several conditions for a period of 18 months. However, if the defendant violated the terms of the diversion agreement, he agreed to waive his right to a jury trial and plead guilty to violating RSA 649-B:4 in return for the State recommending that he receive a six-month house of correction sentence, suspended for two years under specified conditions.

         Among other conditions, the diversion agreement required the defendant to "commit no new crimes and be of good behavior for the period of the diversion program." (Quotation and brackets omitted.) The diversion agreement further provided that "being of good behavior means that the defendant shall not be charged with any misdemeanor or felony crimes during the duration of this agreement." (Quotation omitted.)

         In June 2016, the defendant was charged with seven crimes stemming from at least two incidents in which he allegedly stole items from a Wal-Mart store. The State learned of the charges and requested that the trial court schedule a plea and sentencing hearing. Over the defendant's objection, the trial court scheduled a plea and sentencing hearing. At the hearing, the defendant complied with the diversion agreement and pled guilty to the indictment. The State recommended the sentence provided for by the diversion agreement, and the trial court imposed that sentence. The trial court then notified the defendant that he was required to register as a sexual offender. This appeal followed.

         The defendant first argues that New Hampshire law does not require "an 18 year old who uses a computer as a medium to propose sex with a 15 year old" to "register as a sex offender."

         Resolving this issue requires us to engage in statutory interpretation. "The interpretation of a statute is a question of law, which we review de novo." State v. Fiske, 170 N.H. 279, 288 (2017) (quotation omitted). "In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiters of the intent of the legislature as expressed in the words of a statute considered as a whole." Id. at 288-89 (quotation and brackets omitted). "We first look to the language of the statute itself, and, if possible, construe that language according to its plain and ordinary meaning." Id. at 289 (quotation omitted). "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. (quotation omitted). "However, we will not interpret statutory language in a literal manner when such a reading would lead to an absurd result." Id. (quotation omitted).

         The defendant acknowledges that RSA chapter 651-B (2016 & Supp. 2017) requires persons convicted of violating RSA 649-B:4, such as the defendant, to register for life as a sexual offender. However, the defendant argues that he should not have to register as a sexual offender for his conviction under RSA 649-B:4 because, had he sexually assaulted the victim, who was older than 13 and less than four years younger than him, the assault would have met the criteria of misdemeanor sexual assault under RSA 632-A:4, I(c) (2016), which RSA 632-A:4, II exempts from the registration requirement of RSA chapter 651-B. We find the defendant's argument unavailing.

         RSA 649-B:4 provides, in relevant part, that "[n]o person shall knowingly utilize a computer on-line service, internet service, or local bulletin board service to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice a child or another person believed by the person to be a child, to commit" "[a]ny offense under RSA [chapter] 632-A, relative to sexual assault and related offenses." RSA 649-B:4, I. A person convicted of violating RSA 649-B:4 is required to register as a sexual offender for life. See RSA 651-B:6, I (Supp. 2017) (providing that "tier II or tier III offenders shall be registered for life"); RSA 651-B:1, IX (Supp. 2017) (classifying a person convicted of violating RSA 649-B:4 as a "Tier II offender" (quotation omitted)). Thus, the plain language of the statutes requires a person convicted of utilizing a computer online service to solicit sex from a child to register as a sexual offender for life.

         The registration exception that the defendant points to is RSA 632-A:4, II, which provides that a person found guilty under RSA 632-A:4, I(c) "shall not be required to register as a sexual offender" under RSA chapter 651-B. See also RSA 632-A:4, I(c) (providing that sexual assault is a class A misdemeanor if the assault does not meet the criteria of aggravated felonious sexual assault and the age difference between the defendant and the victim is "4 years or less" and the victim is "13 years of age or older and under 16 years of age"). Based upon the plain language of RSA 632-A:4, II, the registration exception only applies to persons convicted of violating RSA 632-A:4, I(c); it does not apply to persons convicted of violating RSA 649-B:4. In sum, based upon the unambiguous language of the statutes, RSA chapter 651-B requires the defendant ...


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