NH Supreme Court: Indigent woman entitled to state-funded services
The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Friday ruled an indigent Manchester woman who intends to plead not guilty by reason of insanity to a 2012 assault is entitled to have the state pay for her even though she hired her own attorney.
In the 3-2 ruling, the majority found only two things matter when determining if criminal defendants are entitled to state-funded services in order to present a competent defense: whether they are indigent and if the services are needed.
“These two considerations, rather than the particulars of the manner in which the defendant secures counsel, are at the core of a statutory scheme that... is meant to ensure an adequate defense for indigent criminals,” Associate Justice Robert J. Lynn wrote for the majority in State of New Hampshire v. Heidi Brouillette.
The majority reversed Hillsborough County Superior Court Kenneth Brown’s decision and remanded the case to the lower court.
The justices did not take up any state or federal constitutional questions raised when the case went to the high court on appeal. Rather, they focused solely on the state statute (RSA 604-A:6) that governs services to which indigent criminal defendants are entitled to present an adequate defense.
Attorney Olivier Sakellarios, who represents Brouillette, said the majority “did a good job of looking at the overall intent of the law.”
“The Legislature and the people of New Hampshire didn’t intend the statute to preclude certain indigent defendants and favor some over others,” Sakellarios added.
Brouillette faces felony burglary and second-degree assault charges and a misdemeanor criminal mischief complaint for allegedly breaking into her sister’s home and attacking her in November 2012. She also is accused of smashing out the windshield of her sister’s car.
Brouillette filed a financial affidavit when arraigned on the charges. The court deemed her indigent and appointed her counsel. Brouillette later dropped her court-appointed attorney and hired Sakellarios at a reduced rate. She then decided to pursue an insanity defense.
In the dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Linda S. Dalianis said the law clearly requires an indigent defendant have court-appointed counsel to be eligible for other state-funded services.
“The system...entitles an indigent criminal defendants to both counsel and necessary ancillary defense services at state expense, but only as a ‘package deal’,” Dalianis wrote in the minority opinion. Senior Associate Justice Gary E. Hicks also dissented.
Dalianis suggested the Legislature amend the law to avoid misinterpretation.Associate Justices Carol Ann Conboy and James P. Bassett joined Lynn in the majority opinion, which came down squarely on the side the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
The association submitted amicus briefs claiming the law requires the state to provide counsel and other services to indigent defendants regardless of whether they have court-appointed counsel or hired their own attorney.Brouillette is currently out on bail.