NH top court reverses wiretapping convictions of founder of police watchdog group
CONCORD, New Hampshire — The state's highest court has reversed the wiretapping convictions of the founder of a police watchdog group who secretly recorded conversations with Manchester police and school officials.
Adam Mueller is the founder of CopBlock.org, an organization that claims to police the police. He acknowledged during his trial that he didn't state his affiliation with the group or tell three Manchester officials that he was recording conversations with them in 2011 about a police officer accused of roughing up a student at a Manchester high school.
The state Supreme Court's ruling Tuesday turned on a single word in the judge's instructions to jurors at the close of Mueller's trial in August 2012.
The judge said that to convict Mueller of felony wiretapping, they had to find that he "purposely" recorded the calls. The law, however, uses the term "willful."
The justices said "willful" is defined as acting with intentional or reckless disregard for the law. They noted the lesser standard of "purposely" merely means he intended to record the conversations but did not require the state to show he did so with reckless ignorance or disregard of the law.
The justices invoked a seldom used rule — the plain error rule — in determining that letting Mueller's conviction stand would amount to a miscarriage of justice.
Mueller isn't a lawyer but represented himself at trial — a fact his appellate lawyer, Brandon Ross, rued in his arguments to the justices in November.
"He would not have gone to jail and he would not have been convicted, of that I'm certain," Ross told the justices. "Now it's an uphill battle."
Mueller received suspended sentences on two of the convictions and has already served a three-month sentence on the third.
Mueller was already incarcerated when his trial started — serving the balance of a 60-day sentence for resisting arrest after writing messages on the Manchester Police Department's walls with chalk. When asked by Hillsborough Superior Court Judge Kenneth Brown if he wanted to delay sentencing on the wiretapping convictions, Mueller replied, "I'm already in jail. We might as well get it over with."
Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Valentine didn't immediately return a call on whether his office plans to retry Mueller on the wiretapping charges.
Ross said he is pleased with the ruling.