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New Hampshire Supreme Court Announces Defendant Not Required to Identify Evidentiary Support for Noticed Defense

Michael Munroe was a prisoner at the Rockingham County House of Corrections when he became involved in a fight with another prisoner identified as W.V. Munroe was charged with assault by a prisoner. Prior to trial, he filed a Notice of Self Defense and Notice of Competing Harms (“Notice”). The Notice stated that pursuant to RSA 627:4, Munroe “may rely on the defense of self defense.” His stated grounds for the notice were basically a recitation of the facts, some of which included that he stood accused of felony-level assault by a prisoner; that the State alleged he had caused serious bodily injury to W.V. by punching him at a time when Munroe was in custody; and that at a prison disciplinary hearing W.V. pleaded guilty to the charge of fighting.

The State objected to the Notice, arguing that Munroe wasn’t “entitled to argue self-defense as a matter of law based upon the offer of proof as contained within the [Notice].” According to the State, the Notice was deficient because Munroe didn’t allege how or why he had to defend himself from any imminent use of force against him.

The trial court ruled that the Notice failed to adequately set forth grounds under Rule 14(b)(2)(A). The court found that the grounds in the Notice were “insufficient to support” Munroe’s self-defense claim because he “ha[d] not alleged any facts suggesting that W.V. ... threatened him with the use of non-deadly force.” The trial court ordered that Munroe supplement his Notice to identify facts that formed the basis for a claim of self-defense within 10 days, or the Notice would be stricken. The Notice was ultimately stricken.

A jury convicted Munroe of the charged offense, and he appealed. One of his assignments of error was that the trial court erred by striking his Notice of self-defense.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court observed that N.H.R. Crim. P. 14(b)(2)(A) (“Rule 14(b)(2)(A)”) states in pertinent part that if a defendant “intends to rely upon any defense specified in the Criminal Code” he must “file a notice of such intention setting forth the grounds therefore.”

The Court had not previously ruled on Rule 14(b)(2)(A), but the Court had ruled on a similar provision in former Superior Court Rule 101 (“Rule 101”) that required the defendant to “set forth the grounds” in his or her notice of defense same as that required by current Rule 14(b)(2)(A).

In State v. Fichera, 903 A.2d 1030 (N.H. 2006), the defendant filed a Rule 101 notice before trial raising the defense of insanity. His notice stated: “Now comes [the defendant] ... and respectfully notifies this Court and the State of his intention to assert the defense of insanity, as set forth in RSA 628:2, at trial.” On appeal, the State argued that the trial court properly struck Fichera’s notice because the notice offered no evidence to show that a mental disease or defect caused his actions. The Supreme Court disagreed, explaining that the defendant’s obligation under Rule 101 to “set forth the grounds” for a noticed defense does not allow the trial court to “test the validity” of that defense. The Fichera Court then explained that it was true that a defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on insanity only if his insanity defense is supported by some evidence but that standard does not apply when determining the adequacy of the notice given pursuant to Rule 101. In Fichera, the Supreme Court specifically rejected the argument that the trial court is authorized to strike the defense because the defendant had not “proffered at least some evidence of insanity prior to trial.”

Similarly, the Court explained in the instant case that “Rule 14(b)(2)(A)’s requirement that the defendant ‘set[] forth the grounds’ is not tantamount to a requirement that the defendant proffer evidence in support of the defense.... The rule does not allow trial courts to require that defendants identify evidentiary support for a noticed defense.” The Court concluded that the trial court erred in striking the noticed defense.

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Related legal case

State v. Munroe



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