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Friday, October 14, 2016

NH justices hold court in Nashua

By DEAN SHALHOUP
Staff Writer

NASHUA - Bishop Guertin High School junior Liam Nye stood at a microphone Thursday morning and asked assistant state Attorney General Susan McGinnis to clarify something he had trouble figuring out.

"I don't understand how a (police officer) is able to tell what someone's blood alcohol content was just by looking at him," Nye said. ...

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NASHUA - Bishop Guertin High School junior Liam Nye stood at a microphone Thursday morning and asked assistant state Attorney General Susan McGinnis to clarify something he had trouble figuring out.

"I don't understand how a (police officer) is able to tell what someone's blood alcohol content was just by looking at him," Nye said.

"Because he has 30 years' experience," McGinnis responded. "They (officers) learn how to
correlate certain signs with certain levels of impairment."

The exchange took place in what any other time would be the Bishop Guertin High School gym, but for about four hours Thursday was the Concord courtroom where the five justices of the New Hampshire Supreme Court conducted their business.

Nye was one of more than two dozen high school students from Guertin and Nashua's two public high schools who asked questions of two prosecutors and two defense attorneys, and the justices themselves, as part of the Supreme Court's annual On The Road program.

The morning-long event, in which justices heard oral arguments in two appellate cases - State v. Kyree Rice and State v. Remi Gross-Santos - was the 18th On The Road held at various Granite State high schools and colleges since its inception in 2002.

"We did two per year at the beginning, but it turned out to be too much for the staff," senior associate Justice Gary E. Hicks said before the start of the sessions.

"There are a lot of logistics to deal with. It's an enormous undertaking," he added.

Chief Justice Linda S. Dalianis, a longtime Nashua resident who is not only the first woman named to the Supreme Court but also the first woman to become chief justice, said when choosing the cases for the On The Road series, the court looks for those that students can most relate to.

"We've had a lot of thoughtful questions asked at these," said Dalianis, whose brother and two sons went to Bishop Guertin.

On Thursday, the defendants weren't present - they rarely are, court officials said - but the cases are real, the oral arguments are as real and on the record as they'd be if the hearings were in the courtroom.

Nye, still unconvinced by McGinnis's explanation, said he doesn't "understand how (the officer) could do that to the defendant," referring to the veteran officer's determination that Gross-Santos, the driver who is appealing his conviction in a reckless assault crash case, had a .03 blood alcohol content by looking at him.

"That is why you have a trial," McGinnis responded, thereby summing up for the hundreds of student and faculty onlookers the very purpose of the judicial system.

About the cases

Gross-Santos, a Portsmouth resident, was 18 when he was convicted in June 2015 of two counts of second-degree assault for hitting two female pedestrians with his car on Ocean Boulevard in Hampton a year earlier.

The women were seriously injured, leading to an investigation in which Gross-Santos said he swerved into the women because he fell asleep at the wheel while driving from an all-night party to a graduation rehearsal in Portsmouth.

He was acquitted of driving while intoxicated, but convicted on the two felony second-degree assault charges - which he is now appealing, arguing that police had no probable cause to arrest him in the first place.

Rice's case stems from a May 2014 shooting during a melee at a Manchester restaurant. Rice, now 25, is accused of shooting Curtis Clay, then 42, while trying to defend his brother, who had gotten into a fist fight with Clay.

Rice was subsequently convicted on an attempted murder charge and sentenced to 20 years to life in state prison.

Rice's appeal centers on whether the jury was properly instructed on the state's deadly-force statute, as well as his argument that the trial judge made a mistake by barring Rice from questioning Clay about his use of cocaine and marijuana at the time of the shooting.

Inside the gym-turned-courtroom, Bishop Guertin junior Julia McCaffrey found the session "really interesting. I didn't think they would ask as many questions as they did," she said, referring to the five justices interacting with the prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Having fun while learning was how Guertin's Colin O'Connor summed up the experience.

"We're lucky to have these people come here to do this for us," he added. "I'm having fun hearing about the cases."

The attorneys - McGinnes and public defender David Rothstein in the Gross-Santos case and prosecutor Elizabeth Leahy and public defender Christopher Johnson in the Rice case - held 10-minute question-and-answer periods when the justices departed the "courtroom" following each case.

Guertin freshman Isabella Wang got the questioning going by asking McGinnes and Rothstein if they have many cases where they feel they have a slim chance of winning.

"We win most of our cases," McGinnis said, with which Rothstein agreed. "We only win about 10-15 percent of the time. That's actually pretty good," he said, explaining how appellate defenders pore over each case looking for errors "preserved in the record."

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or@Telegraph_DeanS.