N.H. court: Trial court should hear challenges
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the trial courts are the appropriate forum for convicts to complain about their appellate lawyers.
Addressing the issue for the first time, the court ruled unanimously that a Hillsborough County Superior Court judge should have allowed Sean Brown to make his case that his appellate lawyer's representation was flawed. The trial court denied his motion for a new trial, saying it would be inappropriate for a trial judge to order the Supreme Court to grant him a new appeal.
The Supreme Court in an earlier ruling upheld Brown's four convictions for selling drugs.
The state initially argued against the trial court hearing Brown's appeal, but agreed when the case reached the Supreme Court that the trial court was the optimal forum.
"The trial court is no less competent to assess in the first instance the seriousness of the alleged flaw and appellate counsel's reasons, if any, for bypassing a particular issue than it is to assess trial counsel's alleged miscues and strategic choices," the justices wrote, quoting a 2010 Kentucky ruling.
The Supreme Court in Wednesday's ruling noted that trial courts routinely review convicts' claims that their trial lawyers did not adequately represent them.
Attorney Jared Bedrick, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to represent Brown in his most recent appeal, said Wednesday that the court's ruling makes it easier for convicts to challenge the competence of their appellate lawyers because they could do it at their local courts. He said convicts in Berlin, for instance, won't have to travel to Concord to launch their challenge at the Supreme Court, where the rules are more stringent and challenging.
"It's a little more user-friendly in superior court," Bedrick said. "Superior Court is built for that reason, to serve the local community."