State v. Formella

158 N.H. 114, 960 A.2d 722 (2008)

 

RULE:

In matters of statutory interpretation, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire is the final arbiter of the legislature's intent as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole. When examining the language of the statute, the court ascribes the plain and ordinary meaning to the words used. It construes provisions of the Criminal Code according to the fair import of their terms and to promote justice. In doing so, the court must first look to the plain language of the statute to determine legislative intent. Absent an ambiguity the court will not look beyond the language of the statute to discern legislative intent.

FACTS:

On June 13, 2007, the defendant, then a junior at Hanover High School, and two friends were studying at the Howe Library near the school. They were then asked by another group of students to serve as lookouts while the group stole mathematics exams. Defendant and his friends agreed. After getting their books from their lockers, they decided that serving as lookouts was wrong. They left the building. The court held that in order to deprive a prior complicity of effectiveness, one who had encouraged the commission of an offense could avoid liability by terminating his role in the commission of the crime and by making his disapproval known to the principals sufficiently in advance of the commission of the crime to allow them time to reconsider as well. Even if defendant had terminated his complicity prior to the commission of the offense, he had not communicated his withdrawal to the principals. He simply left the scene. Thus, as there was no evidence that defendant had wholly deprived his complicity of its effectiveness, it was not error for the trial court to refuse to make findings on the timing of the offense because such findings would not have altered the result.

ISSUE:

Did the trial court err in failing to make findings of fact relative to the timing of defendant's withdrawal from the theft and the completion of the theft because without such findings, the trial court could not properly apply RSA 626:8?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

The statute is ambiguous. As regards the third factor, for example, the statute does not define what is required for a person to “wholly deprive” his complicity of effectiveness in the commission of an offense. According to the State, an overt act aimed at undermining the prior complicity is required, while the defendant argues that, at least in this case, no such act is necessary. As the statute does not clarify whether such an act is necessary, we conclude that it is ambiguous, and we look to other sources to determine legislative intent. or a person not to be an accomplice he must terminate his complicity prior to the commission of the offense and wholly deprive that complicity of its effectiveness. Even assuming the defendant terminated his complicity prior to the commission of the offense, he did not wholly deprive his complicity of its effectiveness.  As there was no evidence that the defendant had wholly deprived his complicity of its effectiveness, it was not error for the trial court to refuse to make findings on the timing of the offense because such findings would not have altered the result.

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