LACONIA — County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen yesterday filed her objection to the motion of Attorney Mark Sisti, who is defending Amy Lafond against charges that her reckless and negligent driving took the life of one teenage girl and severely injured another, to try drug and traffic charges against her separately.
Gulbrandsen is asserting that Lafonds "consumption of drugs" was was part of an "ongoing criminal episode".
Lafond, 53, is charged with manslaughter, a class A felony, two counts of negligent homicide (alternative theories), both class B felonies, and second degree assault, a class B felony, arising from an incident on April 19 when she allegedly drove into two teenage girls on Messer Street, killing Lilyanna Johnson and seriously injuring Allyssa Miner. She is also charged with possession of a narcotic drug, possession of prescriptions drugs as well as three traffic violations—straying from the proper lane, failing to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk and speeding.
Guldbrandsen has not alleged that Lafond was under the influence of either alcohol or drugs when the collision occurred, in which case the charges of negligent would be class A felonies and carry enhanced penalties. Instead, she has charged her with negligent homicide first for "failing to maintain a proper lookout" and second for "failing to pay due attention" and added the phrase "after having consumed drugs" in each case.
All the charges were consolidated on December 24, 2013, approximately three weeks after Lafond retained Sisti as defense counsel in place of attorneys from the New Hampshire Public Defenders Office.
In asking the court to sever the charges for drug and traffic offenses from those for manslaughter and negligent homicide, Sisti claimed that the first set of charges is not related to the second. He cited an opinion of the New Hampshire Supreme Court holding that related offenses must be based on "a common plan," that is, "a definite prior design which included doing the charged acts as part of its consummation." It is not sufficient, Sisti claimed, to contend that a sequence of actions "resembles a design." Instead "the prior conduct must be intertwined with what follows, such that the charged acts are mutually dependent," he said.
Sisti insisted there is "no interdependence among the charges" against Lafond. He noted in deciding whether charges should be severed, the Supreme Court held that courts should consider whether "in view of the number of offenses charged and the complexity of the evidence to be offered, the trier of fact will be able to distinguish the evidence and apply the law intelligently to each offense." In this case, Sisti concluded, "the jury will run a considerable risk of confusing the evidence the state will offer to support the manslaughter and negligent homicide charges from the drug charges" and "be hard pressed not to consider the alleged presence of contraband as evidence in the other charges."
In response, Guldbrandsen asserted that "the conduct involved the consumption of drugs which appeared in the Defendant's blood after the collision. Thus," she continued. "the ongoing criminal episode in this case occurred from the time the Defendant consumed drugs, continued through her traffic violations and the collision with Johnson and Miner, and ended when an oxycodone pill was found in her possession while receiving treatment for her injuries resulting from the collision."
In addition, Guldbrandsen contended that Sisti failed to file his motion to sever the charges in the a timely manner. Citing the rules of the Superior Court in criminal proceedings, she noted that motions to sever charges must be filed not more than 60 days after entering a plea of not guilty. In Lafond's case, she said the deadline fell on or about December 3, 2013 while Sisti filed his motion in April, after the trial date had been continued twice, without showing good cause for the late filing.