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N.H. Supreme Court overturns Concord assault conviction, bans multiple trials involving the same incident

A Merrimack Superior Court jury found Jamie Locke guilty of of being an accomplice to attempted murder , one of four charges on which she was tried, Monday, June 27, 2011. Locke and three men were suspects in a 2009 attack on Jonathan Evans at a homeless camp near Everett Arena in Concord.

A Merrimack Superior Court jury found Jamie Locke guilty of of being an accomplice to attempted murder , one of four charges on which she was tried, Monday, June 27, 2011. Locke and three men were suspects in a 2009 attack on Jonathan Evans at a homeless camp near Everett Arena in Concord.

The state Supreme Court yesterday unanimously overturned the 2012 assault conviction of a former Concord homeless woman, and in so doing adopted a new rule meant to protect a person from being tried twice for the same incident.

The directive, already in place in several other states, prohibits prosecutors from charging a defendant more than once for acts committed during a single incident.

The move comes nearly three years after a superior court jury acquitted Jamie Locke of first-degree assault, and two years after a separate jury found her guilty of second-degree assault in the same attack.

Locke, 38, was arrested in 2009 and charged with beating a homeless teen and helping pitch his limp body into the Merrimack River. She was initially tried and acquitted in 2011 on charges including conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree assault. Prosecutors later charged her again, this time for second-degree assault, a lesser offense, after learning that the jury foreman had misread the verdict on the conspiracy charge.

Locke’s attorneys contested, citing double jeopardy, but the case was allowed to proceed, and Locke was convicted on the new assault charge in 2012. She was sentenced early last year to 3½ to seven years in prison for the assault.

On appeal, Locke’s public defender invoked the same double jeopardy argument, and alternatively contended that the state should have been required to join all of the charges into one case, as they all manifested from the same 2009 event. The state justified the split by noting that second- and first-degree assault require different foundations of proof.

In its ruling yesterday, though, the court said it was “troubled” by the state’s decision to bring the new charge “even though all the charges arose from the same incident.”

Doing so, Chief Justice Linda Dalianis wrote for the court, “is harmful to the criminal defendant and to the justice system as a whole.”

Several other states have already adopted the same requirement, including New Jersey, which the court referenced in its ruling. Buzz Scherr, a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, said the rule “makes a lot of sense, just practically speaking.”

In their decision, Scherr said, the justices made clear they “don’t want a system where the prosecution keeps trying to get someone time after time after time. It’s unfair and it’s inefficient.”

Merrimack County Attorney Scott Murray said his office, which prosecuted the case, was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling. He said he had yet to thoroughly review the opinion and to determine how the new “joinder” rule will affect pending and future cases.

Locke’s public defender, Chris Johnson, said he agreed with the court’s decision, but declined to comment further. He said he had spoken with Locke, who is being held in the Strafford County jail on a separate offense, and she was “pleased.” Assistant Attorney General Stacey Pawlik declined to comment.

Locke has been paroled on the assault sentencing and is now serving out a consecutive sentence for bail jumping. She is eligible for release on that charge in January.

At the time of the 2009 incident, Locke was living in a homeless camp behind Everett Arena. She later told authorities she was upset with the 19-year-old victim for stealing her friend’s boots but maintained she didn’t throw him into the river. By the time she was sentenced last year, she had already served approximately 2½ years in prison.

Both Johnson and Murray said they were examining what, if anything, the court’s decision yesterday will mean for Locke’s remaining sentence.

Though the court did not rule on the double jeopardy argument in its decision yesterday, it did offer an unusually candid criticism of what it described as an inconsistent record in cases involving such arguments.

“Although the double jeopardy issues in our cases have arisen in a variety of contexts . . . we are unable to discern a consistent approach to double jeopardy analysis in our own cases,” Dalianis wrote, adding, “We invite parties in future cases to ask us to reconsider our double jeopardy jurisprudence.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

Woe be to prosecutors all through the land! The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution protects New Hampshire's homeless (and other poor) people.

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