Submitted: April 18, 2019
Circuit Court-Manchester District Division
J. MacDonald, attorney general (Susan P. McGinnis, senior
assistant attorney general, on the brief), for the State.
Gregory J. Ahlgren, of Manchester, on the brief, for the
defendant, James Jaskolka, appeals the decision of the
Circuit Court (Lyons, J.) denying his request to
vacate his 1991 simple assault conviction and grant him a
trial. We vacate the trial court's order, however,
because it lacked jurisdiction to consider the merits of the
following facts are undisputed. In June 1991, the defendant,
upon consulting with court-appointed counsel, entered into a
negotiated plea agreement by which the defendant agreed to
plead guilty to a misdemeanor, domestically-related simple
assault. The court accepted his plea and imposed the
negotiated sentence of a fine and a suspended jail sentence.
27 years later, the defendant filed a motion seeking to
vacate his conviction, alleging that he was never advised of
his constitutional right to a jury trial and, more pointedly,
was not informed that a conviction for domestic assault would
prohibit him from purchasing, owning, or possessing a
the trial court, the defendant claimed that his motion
constituted a direct attack upon his conviction and,
therefore, the United States Supreme Court decision in
Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (1969), requires an
affirmative showing on the record that he entered his guilty
plea knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. See
Boykin, 395 U.S. at 242-43. The defendant argued that,
in the absence of a record of the trial court's inquiry
into the voluntary and knowing character of his decision to
plead guilty, acceptance of his plea should be treated as
plain error, requiring the State to demonstrate to a clear
and convincing degree that the plea was voluntary or knowing
in the respect specifically challenged. See State v.
Arsenault, 153 N.H. 413, 416-17 (2006) (analyzing a
defendant's collateral attack upon his knowledge and
volition when entering a guilty plea). He further maintained
that because there is "NO record of [his] volition and
knowledge . . . of the right to a jury trial," "the
only appropriate remedy is to vacate the conviction and
schedule this case . . . for trial." The defendant did
not request a hearing with the filing of his initial motion.
trial court denied the motion to vacate, noting that: (1) the
defendant filed his motion 27 years after the plea; (2) in
1992, this court adopted Administrative Order 1992-2 that
required courts to retain records of proceedings and case
files for only 7 years; and (3) the defendant's entire
case file and any audio recording of the proceeding has since
been destroyed in accordance with the administrative rule.
The trial court took judicial notice that, subsequent to the
United States Supreme Court's decision in Boykin
in 1969, district courts in New Hampshire developed forms to
reflect a defendant's waiver of his or her rights in
misdemeanor cases, the public defenders used those waiver
forms when representing defendants entering guilty pleas, and
district court judges conducted plea colloquies before
accepting a defendant's plea. See Parke v.
Raley, 506 U.S. 20, 29-32 (1992) (applying the
"presumption of regularity" to collateral attacks
on final judgments).
court found that it was "fundamentally unfair" for
the defendant to delay moving to vacate his conviction until
after the court system had destroyed the records of the case
and then to require the State to bear the burden of proving a
valid waiver. The trial court denied the motion without a
hearing. The defendant moved for reconsideration, arguing
that his position was, and always had been, that the burden
shifted to the State in a direct attack on an underlying
criminal conviction, "as there [is] here." The
defendant, without explanation, requested an evidentiary
hearing, but the trial court summarily denied the motion to
reconsider. This appeal followed.
defendant makes numerous arguments before us as to why the
trial court erred in denying his motion to vacate his
conviction without a hearing. We need not address these
arguments, however, because we conclude that the trial court
lacked subject matter jurisdiction to address the merits of
the defendant's motion. Although the parties did not
address this issue on appeal, subject matter jurisdiction may
be raised at any time, including on appeal, by the parties,
or by this court sua sponte. State v.
Demesmin, 159 N.H. 595, 597 (2010).
the defendant's motion challenges his conviction long
after the period for filing a direct appeal expired,
see RSA 599:1 to:1-b (2001), his instant challenge
constitutes a collateral attack upon the 1991 conviction.
See State v. Lopez, 156 N.H. 193, 194, 197 (2007).
The district division of the circuit court, however, is a
court of limited jurisdiction with powers conferred upon it
by statute. RSA 502-A:11 (Supp. 2018) (identifying the
jurisdiction of the district court in criminal cases); RSA
490-F:18 (Supp. 2018) (explaining that statutes which
reference the jurisdiction of the district court are deemed
to refer to the circuit court). Consistent with this premise,
the legislature has prescribed strict time limitations upon a
defendant's right to appeal convictions in the circuit
courts, see RSA 599:1 to:1-a, which, in turn, impose
limitations upon the circuit court's jurisdiction.
See State v. Flynn, 110 N.H. 451, 454 (1970)
(concluding that the district court lacked jurisdiction to
vacate its guilty finding after the expiration of the
statutory period for appeal under RSA 599:1-a).
we have previously concluded that the district courts had
"the authority and power to permit withdrawal of guilty
pleas based on an infringement of a defendant's
constitutional rights." State v. Beaulieu, 115
N.H. 483, 484 (1975) (citing State v. Daigle, 114
N.H. 679 (1974)). Indeed, in Daigle, Justice Grimes
observed that motions seeking to withdraw an uncounseled
guilty plea that would otherwise be barred by the statutory
time limitations to appeal "are matters falling outside
the normal issues raised on appeal" and that such
pleadings are "in the nature of a petition for a writ of
habeas corpus which provides a remedy for constitutional
errors at the trial without limit of time."
Daigle, 114 N.H. at 681 (quotations and ellipsis
omitted). Other jurisdictions have similarly equated motions
seeking to vacate a conviction filed after the expiration of
the applicable appeal period with petitions seeking
extraordinary relief, such as petitions for a writ of habeas
corpus or coram nobis. See People v. Totari, 4
Cal.Rptr.3d 613, 616 (Ct. App. 2003) (observing that a motion