State v. Winslow, 90-158

Decision Date03 July 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-158,90-158
Citation134 N.H. 398,593 A.2d 238
PartiesThe STATE of New Hampshire v. Virginia M. WINSLOW.
CourtNew Hampshire Supreme Court

John P. Arnold, Atty. Gen. and Jeffrey W. Spencer, Attorney, on brief, for the State.

W. Kirk Abbott, Jr., Asst. Appellate Defender, Concord, on brief for defendant.

BATCHELDER, Justice.

The defendant, Virginia Winslow, was indicted on three counts of welfare fraud in violation of RSA 167:17-b, I(d). She moved to dismiss all three indictments, arguing that RSA 167:17-b, I(d) is ambiguous and that, due to this ambiguity, the indictments failed to state a cause of action against her and violated her right to due process. The Trial Court (Dalianis, J.) granted the defendant's motion to dismiss and denied the State's motion for reconsideration. It is from these rulings that the State now appeals. For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand.

RSA 167:17-b, I(d) states that no person shall:

"[i]ntentionally fail to disclose the receipt of property, wages, income or resources or any change in circumstances which would affect his eligibility for assistance or his initial or continued right to any benefit or payment for the purpose of receiving any assistance, benefit or payment under RSA 167 or RSA 161 to which he is not entitled."

(Emphasis added.) The three indictments in the present case allege that the defendant, the mother of children eligible for aid to families with dependent children (AFDC), intentionally failed to disclose to the New Hampshire Division of Human Services that: (1) Robert R. Winslow was a supporting member of her household; and (2) she had received income from two jobs.

On appeal, the State argues that all three indictments state a cause of action against the defendant, because RSA 167:17-b, I(d), when read in conjunction with other statutes contained in RSA chapter 167, provides the defendant with sufficient notice that the intentional failure of a parent or caretaker of an AFDC-eligible child to disclose a change in circumstances affecting the child's eligibility for AFDC benefits is a crime. The defendant, on the other hand, maintains that a reasonable person would not read RSA 167:17-b, I(d) to impose liability on any person other than the person entitled by statute to AFDC benefits. Because the list of those eligible for AFDC benefits includes only needy children, and not their parents or caretakers, see RSA 167:6, V (Supp.1990), she contends that, as a parent of AFDC-eligible children, she is not subject to prosecution under RSA 167:17-b, I(d). The defendant presents two additional arguments as to why the trial court's ruling should be affirmed, but we do not address them because they were not raised below. See State v. Santana, 133 N.H. 798, ----, 586 A.2d 77, 83 (1991).

The issue presented in this case is whether RSA 167:17-b, I(d) is unconstitutionally vague, in that it fails to adequately notify a parent or caretaker of a child eligible for AFDC that the parent/caretaker's intentional failure to disclose a change in circumstances affecting the child's eligibility for AFDC benefits is a crime. " 'Due process requires that a statute proscribing conduct not be so vague as to fail to give a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited.' " Appeal of Plantier, 126 N.H. 500, 513, 494 A.2d 270, 277 (1985) (quoting in rE doe, 123 N.H. 634, 641, 465 A.2d 924, 929 (1983)). the necessary specificity, however, need not be contained in the statute itself, but rather, the statute in question may be read in the context of related statutes, prior decisions, or generally accepted usage. State v. Bauer, 337 N.W.2d 209, 210 (Iowa 1983); see State v. Smagula, 117 N.H. 663, 666, 377 A.2d 608, 610 (1977) (stating that "[a]lthough guidelines do not appear in a statute, a reviewing court may, by resort to judicial construction, cure an otherwise unconstitutionally vague provision"). The party challenging the statute as void for vagueness bears a heavy burden of proof in view of the strong presumption of a statute's constitutionality. 1A N. Singer, Sutherland Statutory Construction § 21.16, at 138 (Sands 4th ed. 1985).

AFDC is a program financed largely by the federal government, but administered by the States. Annotation, Supreme Court's Views as to Construction and Application of Aid...

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10 cases
  • Hall v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 23, 2016
    ...in that or in a related statute, does not necessarily render such statute or regulation vague or indefinite.”); State v. Winslow, 134 N.H. 398, 400, 593 A.2d 238 (1991) (“[T]he necessary specificity, however, need not be contained in the statute itself, but rather, the statute in question m......
  • Hall v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 23, 2016
    ...in that or in a related statute, does not necessarily render such statute or regulation vague or indefinite."); State v. Winslow, 134 N.H. 398, 400 (1991) ("[T]he necessary specificity, however, need not be contained in the statute itself, but rather, the statute in question may be read in ......
  • Asselin v. Town of Conway
    • United States
    • New Hampshire Supreme Court
    • July 2, 1993
    ...vague as to fail to give a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited." State v. Winslow, 134 N.H. 398, 399, 593 A.2d 238, 240 (1991) (quotation omitted); see generally E. Ziegler, Jr., Rathkopf's The Law of Zoning and Planning § 5.03, at 5-35 to -37......
  • In re Reiner
    • United States
    • New Hampshire Supreme Court
    • May 6, 2005
    ...occur promptly so as to comply with due process. See Matter of Kenney, 399 Mass. 431, 504 N.E.2d 652, 656 (1987) ; State v. Winslow, 134 N.H. 398, 400, 593 A.2d 238 (1991). Following an interim suspension order based upon an indictment, the suspended attorney may request a hearing. The hear......
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