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New Hampshire set to amend criminal code to include domestic violence as crime

Currently in New Hampshire, there is no specific designation for a crime of domestic violence. Recently, the New Hampshire Senate unanimously approved a bill that would change just that. Many people have heard of the new bill titled “Joshua’s Law,” but how does this bill impact the criminal justice system here in New Hampshire?

The Bill:

Senate Bill SB 318 establishes the crime of domestic violence by adding a new section to the criminal code, NH RSA 631:2-b, as well as adding a new subparagraph to several other crimes. The added paragraph includes an instruction to classify these previously existing crimes as domestic violence offenses if it is proved that the victim and the defendant were intimate partners or family or household members as defined in the proposed legislation.

The Impact:

According to the Fiscal Note included with SB 318, the Judicial Council points out that this bill does not create any new criminal offenses nor does it increase or decrease most of the penalties for offense that are already crimes. The Council concedes that some misdemeanor offenses that are now brought as class B misdemeanors may now be filed as class A misdemeanors. Should this prove to be the case, there will be more people who will now face penalties of up to a year in jail.

Additionally, the Council does not address the interplay of the new law and Section II of RSA 631:2-a. NH RSA 631:2-a II specifies that a simple assault is a misdemeanor unless it is entered into by mutual consent, then it is a violation level offense. This new law does not include a reference to the mutual combat provision, so we may see some debate on this omission.

What’s next?

SB 318 will cross-over to the NH House of Representatives on March 27, 2014. Once there, the House will vote on the bill. If the House passes the bill, it will then head to Governor Hassan’s desk, who is likely to sign the bill into law given the governor’s public support of the bill.

Katherine J. Morneau