Thursday, November 1, 2007

Supreme Court on the Road

On October 25, 2007, the Supreme Court traveled to Bow High School to provide 600 high school students from a number of community schools the opportunity to hear two oral arguments. After the arguments the students were given an opportunity to question both the attorneys and the members of the Court. In advance of the argument, the Court asked local attorneys to visit the participating schools. I had the opportunity to attend the Bedford High School law class taught by Principal George Edwards in advance of the October 25th oral argument. The students were provided with a condensed version of New Hampshire Public Television, New Hampshire Outlook Program on the New Hampshire Supreme Court. They were also provided with the two Superior Court Orders on appeal and condensed versions of the two Briefs in each case.

The first case argued involved the jury’s decision to convict despite inconsistent testimony from the victim concerning the defendant’s identification. State of New Hampshire v. Sean Brown, 2006-0333. The trial court vacated the jury’s verdict based upon the unreliability of the evidence confirming the defendant’s identification. This appeal prompted a number of questions from the students over how disputed facts are handled in the courtroom and the role of the jury as opposed to the trial judge. This questioning also led to a discussion concerning the role of the trial court as opposed to the appellate court, whose role is limited to the review of legal errors and unsustainable exercises of discretion.

The second case involved an appeal concerning the trial court’s decision to consolidate several separate drug sales as part of a common scheme despite the defendant’s request to sever because of the prejudicial impact of cumulative bad acts. State of New Hampshire v. Michael Spinale, 2006-0872. This appeal generated questions from the students concerning the rules that govern the introduction of evidence at trial and in particular, why the Rules of Evidence prohibit introduction of evidence from unrelated prior acts given the potential prejudice that the jury might convict a defendant based upon prior bad conduct, which could be unrelated to the charge at issue.

The students also asked a number of questions about the accuracy of television law shows, such as Law & Order and they asked practical questions about how one goes about getting a case to the Supreme Court and how one prepares both the written Brief and how ones prepares for oral argument. The Supreme Court will issue its decisions affirming and or reversing these cases in approximately 3 months. The written decisions will appear as slip opinions on the Court’s web site at: