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State v. Bjorkman

Supreme Court of New Hampshire, Grafton

November 28, 2018


          Argued: October 11, 2018

          Gordon J. MacDonald, attorney general (Stephen D. Fuller, senior assistant attorney general, on the memorandum of law and orally), for the State.

          Eric S. Wolpin, assistant appellate defender, of Concord, on the brief and orally, for the defendant.

          LYNN, C.J.

         The defendant, Hjalmar Bjorkman, appeals his conviction following a jury trial in the Superior Court (MacLeod, J.) on one count of using computer services for a prohibited purpose, see RSA 649-B:4, I(a) (2016). The defendant challenges the trial court's denial of his motion to dismiss, contending that jury selection does not fulfill the requirement under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD) that a defendant be "brought to trial" within 180 days of filing a request for final disposition. We affirm.

         The following facts are derived from the record. While being held at a correctional facility in Vermont on an unrelated matter, the defendant was indicted in New Hampshire on the charge that forms the basis of this appeal. After learning of the indictment, the defendant filed a "request for final disposition" under the IAD. See RSA 606-A:1, III(a) (2001). This request was received by the State on January 17, 2017.

         Jury selection for the defendant's trial was held on July 10, 2017, within 180 days from the court's receipt of the defendant's request for disposition. Eight days later, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that his case had not been "brought to trial" within the time period required by the IAD, which he stated had lapsed the day before, on July 17. The State objected, contending, among other things, that jury selection amounted to being "brought to trial" within the meaning of the IAD. On July 21, 2017, the trial court held a hearing on the motion. At the hearing, the defendant asserted that "the commencement of trial occurs" after jury selection, "when the case is called, the [d]efendant is brought before the court, the jury is . . . sworn, and the case begins."

         The trial court issued an oral decision on the defendant's motion to dismiss, ruling "as a matter of law that the trial began . . . at the time of jury selection," which the court deemed a "critical stage" in the trial. The court explained that at jury selection, counsel for both parties "engaged in direct attorney conducted voir dire with the jury," wherein they raised anticipated issues for trial. The court also noted that once a jury has been empaneled, a defendant no longer has the right to proceed with a bench trial. In so ruling, the trial court relied on federal case law interpreting the Speedy Trial Act (STA), see 18 U.S.C. §§ 3161 et seq. (2012), reasoning that the IAD is "intertwined" with the constitutional right to a speedy trial, and that for purposes of the STA "a jury trial commences . . . when the court begins voir dire." The court also distinguished IAD cases from those involving double jeopardy, explaining that the two categories encompass "different legal concepts" and seek "to address different issues of protection for the [d]efendant." Finally, the trial court stated that "as a practical matter," voir dire in complex cases could "go on for days, perhaps a week or more," making it "difficult" to comply with the defendant's interpretation of the IAD.

         Following his conviction, the defendant asked the trial court to reconsider its denial of his motion to dismiss. The defendant argued that "the [c]ourt's reliance on federal case law construing the [STA] was misplaced" because the STA uses different terminology and has different legislative intent than the IAD. The trial court denied the defendant's motion to reconsider, and this appeal followed.

         The denial of the defendant's motion to dismiss an indictment under the IAD presents a question of law, which we review de novo. State v. Nelson, 161 N.H. 58, 61 (2010). As a congressionally sanctioned interstate compact, the IAD is a federal law subject to federal construction. State v. Sprague, 146 N.H. 334, 336 (2001).

         "The IAD is a compact entered into by 48 States, the United States, and the District of Columbia to establish procedures for resolution of one State's outstanding charges against a prisoner of another State." State v. Brown, 157 N.H. 555, 557 (2008) (quotation omitted). Under Article III of the IAD, a person imprisoned in a party state who has a detainer lodged against him in another party state "may file a request for a final disposition to be made of the indictment, information, or complaint." Id. (quotation omitted). The statute mandates that the prisoner "shall be brought to trial within 180 days" of receipt of this request by "the prosecuting officer and the appropriate court." RSA 606-A:1, III(a) (emphasis added); see Brown, 157 N.H. at 557. In the absence of a waiver, [1] the defendant's inability to stand trial, or a proper continuance, the pending charges must be dismissed with prejudice if a prisoner is not brought to trial within the prescribed time period. State v. Dolbeare, 140 N.H. 84, 86 (1995). The burden of showing compliance with the IAD is upon the State. Brown, 157 N.H. at 558.

         Both parties agree that January 17, 2017 serves as the commencement date of the 180-day time limit. Therefore, the only issue before us is whether the defendant was "brought to trial" for purposes of the IAD when the jury was selected on July 10, 2017. We hold that he was. The defendant asserts that the phrase "brought to trial" for purposes of the IAD refers to the proceedings that follow jury selection which involve "the calling of witness[es], the hearing of evidence, and the resolution of the controversy in question." We disagree.

         Although the phrase "brought to trial" is not defined in the IAD, the legislature set forth the statute's purpose in Article I:

The party states find that charges outstanding against a prisoner, detainers based on untried indictments, informations or complaints, and difficulties in securing speedy trial of persons already incarcerated in other jurisdictions, produce uncertainties which obstruct programs of prisoner treatment and rehabilitation. Accordingly, it is the policy of the party states and the purpose of this agreement to encourage the expeditious and orderly ...

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