Bill to Clarify N.H.'s Rape Shield Law Gets Strong Backing From House Committee

Apr 25, 2017

A bill seeking to clarify the state’s Rape Shield Law passed a key House committee 11 to 4 Tuesday. Under the current law, a victim’s sexual history is protected in sexual assault cases - something that's on the books, in some version , in every state.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court last year wrestled with whether to admit this private information during the rape and murder appeal of former UNH student Lizzi Marriott.

At first the Court decided this Rape Shield protection no longer applied during the appeal process but then later reversed its decision.

Marriott’s father, Bob Marriott, said this lack of clarity in the law was an emotional rollercoaster for him and his family. Marriott, who was at Tuesday’s Committee hearing, says he’s pleased this measure would keep this protection throughout the entire judicial process.

“Helps us and more importantly helps to make sure it doesn’t happen to other people and that’s really what my goal is to make sure someone doesn’t have to go through the same process that we went through,” Marriott said after the committee vote.

Bob Marriott, Lizzi's dad, said after Tuesday's committee hearing that providing this clarity will help other victims to come forward.
Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Seth Mazzaglia of Dover was convicted of raping and killing 19-year-old Marriott in 2012. He's since appealed his life without parole sentence but has lost those challenges.

Under the measure, the Rape Shield's protections would include not just sexual history but, thoughts or expressions related to sexual issues, use of contraceptives, sexual activities reflected in medical and counseling records, living arrangements and lifestyle. Whether these things were protected under the current law came up during Marriott's criminal case.

This change; however, was removed in the House's version of this bill. Those opposed argue this would limit the court's authority to have discretion and some argued it may infringe on a defendant's rights to a fair trial.

Former UNH student Lizzi Marriott, 19, was raped and murdered in 2012 by Seth Mazzaglia.
Credit FILE

But Russ Rilee, who's the lawyer for the Marriott family, says that's not the case. Rilee says this is just a guideline for courts to fall back on.

"Police officers, prosecutors - they can now all counsel the victim to say, 'look if you are going to go forward with this prosecution this information from your past is presumably inadmissible' as opposed to we don't know what is going to be admissible and what will not," he said, stressing it gives victims peace of mind to come forward.

House leadership as well as Governor Chris Sununu are behind this proposal. On Tuesday, Sununu sent the committee a three-page letter of support, saying it is "imperative to ensure that no other victims experience the uncertainty, fear and denial of rights experienced by Lizzi's family."

If the House passes the proposal unchanged,  it will head right to the Governor.