courts

Three New Hampshire counties are on track to begin next year a streamlined system for processing felonies that removes the automatic probable cause hearing.

Today, all arrests begin in a local court, and anyone charged with a crime gets a probable cause hearing. But according to a bill passed by the House Wednesday, felony crimes will begin in the county courthouse starting in July of next year. Defendants will then have to petition a judge for a probable cause hearing -- that’s when the court determines if its more likely than not the crime occurred.

Emily Corwin / NHPR

Last year, 29 year old Robert Wilson was accused of a felony-level crime and faced the possibility of three and a half to seven years in prison. On Monday, after representing himself “pro se," the jury found him not guilty. 

Generally speaking, this doesn’t happen. Litigants represent themselves frequently in civil court, but rarely do criminal defendants argue by themselves before a jury. Wilson had even refused stand-by council.

By John Phelan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Drug courts are supposed to save taxpayers money: one year of intense treatment and supervision costs about a third as much as a year behind bars.

But it still requires money, up front.

Now, after squeezing four years out of a federal startup grant, Rockingham County is wrestling over how to fund the program.

How N.H. Handles Juvenile Offenders

Sep 15, 2014
Tidewater Muse / Flickr/CC

New Hampshire has joined forty other states in treating seventeen year old criminal offenders as juveniles rather than adults. Supporters say this change reflects the latest research on adolescent development. Some worry, though, that this approach is too lenient and that the state isn’t well prepared for this shift. 

GUESTS:

Small claims courts in two New Hampshire communities are going paperless.

The courts in Concord and Plymouth are switching to electronic filing and processing on Wednesday.

The goal is to have all 32 small claims courts statewide go paperless by the end of the year.

Judicial officials say more than 13,000 new small claims actions were filed in 2013 and nearly 9,000 were reopened.

Small claims are filed in cases involving damages or debts of $7,500 or less. That sum will increase to $10,000 next year.

Sara Plourde

A Christian legal group has asked a federal judge to block a New Hampshire law that bars demonstrators from coming within 25 feet of facilities that offer or perform abortions.

New Hampshire’s so-called buffer zone rule is set to take effect Thursday. But in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a similar law in Massachusetts, Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to delay implementation of the new restrictions.

Courtroom One Gavel
Joe Gratz / Flickr Creative Commons

The New Hampshire Judicial Branch will begin pilot programs to push small claims courts toward going paperless.  Officials say small claims courts in Concord and Plymouth will switch to electronic filing and processing July 30.  The goal is to have all 32 small claims courts statewide go paperless by the end of the year.  Judicial officials say more than 13,000 new small claims actions were filed in 2013 and nearly 9,000 were reopened.  Small claims are filed in cases involving damages or debts of $7,500 or less. That sum will increase to $10,000 next year.

Why Law Schools Are Facing An Enrollment Problem

Jul 3, 2014
MiraCosta Community College / Flickr Creative Commons

After years of a so-called “lawyer bubble”, with firms expanding rapidly – these days, many new graduates struggle to get a job in the legal profession.  In response, law school enrollment numbers are plummeting, leading some to scale back their operations and many to re-think the best way to deliver that juris doctorate.

GUESTS:

Ryan Lessard / NHPR

  About 80% of the people behind bars in New Hampshire have substance abuse issues. It’s a growing problem and one way the justice system is trying to address the problem is with drug courts—where nonviolent offenders have their sentences suspended if they take part in treatment. Five counties now operate drug courts and efforts are underway to start two more in Manchester and Nashua. The program could help reduce recidivism rates.


It’s important to note, firstly, that the cost of incarcerating someone in state prison is about $32k and in county jails about $35k. Experts say that ideally, drug courts operate on a budget that has a per capita cost of about $8-12k. Any less than that and participants may not be getting enough supervision or critical aid in education, transportation, medication etc. Any more than that and it’s probably time to bring more participants into the program. The challenge many drug courts face is funding.

The Executive Council has confirmed four judges for the circuit court nominated by Governor Maggie Hassan.

New Hampshire's Executive Council has given the attorney general's office nearly $1 million to offset the costs of waging and defending major cases.

The $900,000 award — approved Wednesday — is nearly triple the $350,000 for litigation costs allocated to the office for fiscal year 2014.

New Hampshire’s judicial system is going digital with a new system called eCourt. The system is launching pilot programs in parts of New Hampshire in 2014 - but don’t expect a big rollout like what the White House did for HealthCare.gov.

Robin Hooders Case To Continue

Jun 12, 2013

The city of Keene’s lawsuit against a group known as the Robin Hooders will go forward. The group has gained attention for filling empty parking meters in the city, as well as for allegations of harassing parking attendants. This week, they had their first day in court.

Todd Bookman / NHPR

A new report titled 'The Justice Gap' finds that low income New Hampshire residents lack access to even basic legal services.

The report estimates that more than 60% of civil cases in the state involve people representing themselves. And they do so because they don’t have access to lawyers and paralegals.

A proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November would give the legislature final say over judicial rules and procedures.  That has some in the legal community incensed over what they consider to be a power grab by the legislature. But others in that same legal community think it simply restores authority appropriately to the people’s representatives.

Jury Still Out on N.H. Court Overhaul

Jun 25, 2012
Orangesparrow / Flickr Creative Commons

Let’s say your teenager gets caught shoplifting. Or maybe your Uncle Morty dies and you’ve got to settle his estate.

Alternative Sentencing Program Faces Verdict

Feb 22, 2012

Recovering alcoholics can usually pinpoint their rock-bottom. For Michael Hagar, it was the night of July 28, 2009. That evening, he met up with some friends to drink behind the Hannaford’s supermarket in Keene. 

“And that is where the whole incident took off from,” said Hagar.

Behind the grocery story, Hagar believes he drank about 18 beers. Then someone jumped him, hitting him in the face with a log. His pants and wallet were stolen. Gushing blood and enraged, he staggered into the store's parking lot.