- Associated Press - Friday, August 15, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Friday reversed the robbery conviction of a woman who was barred from testifying about past incidents of violence or threats by the boyfriend she said coerced her into being the getaway driver.

Ashley Hayward of Newport was 19 when she was charged with being an accomplice to robbing the Baymont Inn in Lebanon Jan. 10, 2012. She was convicted that September.

Hayward’s lawyer was permitted to present evidence that her boyfriend, Tyler Dodge, threatened to beat her the night of the robbery if she didn’t drive him and another co-defendant. Hayward had worked at the Baymont briefly, leaving the job a month before the late-night robbery, which netted the trio $220.

The justices in their 4-1 ruling said the trial judge was wrong to bar Hayward’s testimony about prior threats and violence by Dodge, including holding a knife to her throat. As part of her defense, Hayward argued that she was under duress from Dodge’s threat when she agreed to drive.

The majority noted that Hayward bore the burden of proving she was under duress, and the trial court’s ruling allowed the state to gain “a misleading advantage.”

“Dodge’s prior threats and violence were relevant to the duress defense because they tended to make it more probable that the defendant acted under a reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily injury,” the majority wrote. “The trial court deprived the jury of evidence necessary to its assessment of her duress defense.”

Justice Robert Lynn dissented, saying he didn’t think the trial court’s error rose to the level of reversing Hayward’s conviction. He said Hayward offered no proof that the threats and violence actually occurred.

The court ordered a new trial.

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