State v. Williams, 091820 NHSC, 2019-0250

Docket Nº:2019-0250
Opinion Judge:DONOVAN, J.
Party Name:THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE v. LAURA WILLIAMS
Attorney:Gordon J. MacDonald, attorney general (Susan P. McGinnis, senior assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State. Christopher M. Johnson, chief appellate defender, of Concord, on the brief and orally, for the defendant.
Judge Panel:HICKS, BASSETT, and HANTZ MARCONI, JJ., concurred.
Case Date:September 18, 2020
Court:Supreme Court of New Hampshire

THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

v.

LAURA WILLIAMS

No. 2019-0250

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

September 18, 2020

Argued: June 24, 2020

6th Circuit Court-Hillsborough District Division No. 2019-0250

Gordon J. MacDonald, attorney general (Susan P. McGinnis, senior assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the State.

Christopher M. Johnson, chief appellate defender, of Concord, on the brief and orally, for the defendant.

DONOVAN, J.

The defendant, Laura Williams, appeals orders of the Circuit Court (Tenney, J.) denying her petitions to annul records of conviction and arrest, as well as charges not resulting in conviction, because she had subsequent convictions. We vacate the trial court's denial of the defendant's petitions to annul: (1) two charges that did not result in conviction; and (2) convictions from October 2007 and November 2012 for simple assault. We remand for the court to exercise its discretion to determine whether granting the petitions will assist in the defendant's rehabilitation and is consistent with the public welfare. See RSA 651:5 (Supp. 2019) (amended 2020); State v. Baker, 164 N.H. 296, 300 (2012).

The record supports the following facts. In August 2018, the defendant sought to annul the following: (1) two November 1, 2012 convictions for simple assault; (2) an October 1, 2007 conviction for simple assault, which was originally a charge of first-degree assault before being amended by the State; (3) a charge for breach of bail conditions, which was nol prossed on October 1, 2007;1 and (4) a charge of simple assault, which was nol prossed on October 1, 2007. In November and December 2018, the trial court denied each petition to annul because it found that the defendant had subsequent convictions on her record. The defendant unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration. In the order denying the defendant's reconsideration motion, the court stated that "[t]he subsequent offenses of drug possession and theft are not minor offenses and both occurred as recently as 2012." This appeal followed.

At the outset, the State argues that the defendant's appellate arguments are not preserved because she did not raise them, in the first instance, with the trial court. The defendant counters that the State's arguments on appeal are similarly not preserved given that the State did not object or otherwise respond to any of her annulment petitions filed with the trial court. Nevertheless, preservation is a limit upon the parties to an appeal, not upon the reviewing court. See State v. Kardonsky, 169 N.H. 150, 152 (2016). Under the circumstances of this case, and given that the appeal raises questions of statutory interpretation requiring no further factual development and the statute in question has not been the subject of substantial appellate review, we exercise our discretion to consider the parties' arguments to the extent set forth below.

The parties disagree as to the grounds upon which the trial court rested its decision. The defendant argues that the trial court erroneously denied her petitions as untimely under RSA 651:5, III. The State asserts that the trial court exercised its discretion and implicitly denied the defendant's petitions as inconsistent with the public welfare. See RSA 651:5, I. Although the interpretation of a trial court order presents a question of law, which we review de novo, see Fischer v. Superintendent, Strafford County House of Corrections, 163 N.H. 515, 519 (2012), we are unable to discern the statutory grounds upon which the trial court denied the defendant's petitions. Under these circumstances, therefore, we vacate the trial court's orders. Cf. Stowell v. Andrews, 171 N.H. 289, 299-300, 304 (2018) (vacating trial court's conflicting rulings concerning the nature of easements and the relocation of trails).

In the interests of judicial economy, we address the arguments of the parties that are likely to arise on remand. See Auger v. Town of Strafford, 156 N.H. 64, 67 (2007); State v. Robinson, 158 N.H. 792, 795-96 (2009). Analyzing the issues in this appeal requires that we engage in statutory interpretation. We review the trial court's statutory interpretation de novo. State v. Bobola, 168 N.H. 771, 773 (2016). We are the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole. Id. When examining the language of the statute, we ascribe the plain and ordinary meaning to the words used. Id. 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. We also interpret a statute in the context of the overall statutory scheme and not in isolation. Id. Our goal is to apply statutes in light of the legislature's intent in enacting them, and in light of the policy sought to be advanced by the entire statutory scheme. Id.

RSA 651:5 sets forth the procedural prerequisites to obtaining annulments. Id. The statute provides, in pertinent part: I. Except as provided in paragraphs V-VIII, the record of arrest, conviction and sentence of any person may be annulled by the sentencing court at any time in response to a petition for annulment which is timely brought in accordance with the provisions of this section if in the opinion of the court, the annulment will assist in the petitioner's rehabilitation and will be consistent with the public welfare. The court may grant or deny an annulment without a hearing, unless a hearing is requested by the petitioner.

II. For an offense disposed of before January 1, 2019 and any offense not subject to paragraph II-a, any person whose arrest has resulted in a finding of not guilty, or whose case was dismissed or not prosecuted, may petition for annulment of the arrest record or court record, or both, at any time in accordance with the provisions of this section. Any person who was convicted of a criminal offense whose conviction was subsequently vacated by a court may petition for annulment of the arrest record or court record, or both, in accordance with the provisions of this section. Nothing in this paragraph shall limit the provisions of subparagraph XI(b).

III. Except as provided in RSA 265-A:21 or in paragraphs V and VI, any person convicted of an offense may petition for annulment of the record of arrest, conviction, and sentence when the petitioner has completed all the terms and conditions of the sentence and has thereafter been convicted of no other crime, except a motor vehicle offense classified as a violation other than driving while intoxicated under RSA 265-A:2, I, RSA 265:82, or RSA 265:82-a for a period of time as follows:

(a)(1) For a violation with a conviction date prior to January 1, 2019 or a violation with a conviction date on or after January 1, 2019 that was not the highest offense of conviction, one year, unless the underlying conviction was for an offense specified under RSA 259:39.

(b)(1) For a class B misdemeanor with a conviction date prior to January 1, 2019 or a class B misdemeanor with a conviction date on or after January 1, 2019 that was not the highest offense of conviction, except as provided in subparagraphs (f) and (h), 2 years.

(c) For a class A misdemeanor except as provided in subparagraphs (f) and (i), 3 years. . . . .

V. No petition shall be brought and no annulment granted in the case of any violent crime, of felony obstruction of justice crimes, or of any offense for which the petitioner was sentenced to an extended term of imprisonment under RSA 651:6.

VI. If a person has been convicted of more than one offense, no petition for annulment shall be brought and no annulment granted:

(a) If annulment of any part of the record is barred under paragraph V; or

(b) Until the time requirements under paragraphs III and IV for all offenses of record have been met.

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