In the recently decided case of State v Locke the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed Jamie Locke’s second-degree assault conviction. This case is significant because, for the first time, the Court adopted what’s known as a compulsory joinder rule for New Hampshire prosecutors. This means that a prosecutor must bring all the charges he or she is going to bring at one time if they arise out of the same criminal episode or conduct and the prosecutor knows about them. The prosecutor cannot hold back on some charges, see how the first trial goes, and then bring the additional related charges at a later time if the first trial did not go as the prosecutor hoped.
Locke had two trials based on a single criminal episode. In the first trial she faced charges that included conspiracy to commit murder, accomplice to attempted murder and first-degree assault. These charges all arose out of an incident in which Locke and two co-defendants allegedly threw an incapacitated man into the Merrimack River in the winter.
Locke was found not guilty of most of the charges after the first trial. She was convicted of accomplice to attempted murder, but that charge was later dismissed because of a mistake in the wording of the indictment. Therefore, Locke’s first trial resulted in no convictions or sentence.
Dissatisfied with the outcome of the first trial, the prosecutor then brought a new charge of second-degree assault based on the same incident. After the second trial Locke was convicted of this charge and appealed arguing that the prosecutor should have brought the second-degree assault charge as part of the first trial. There was no reason to hold back on that charge and the prosecutor had just held it in reserve in case he did not win the first trial.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed, ruling that a prosecutor must bring all the related charges at one time. The Court reasoned that this rule of compulsory joinder protects a defendant from experiencing harassment and anxiety from having to endure multiple trials based on the same conduct.