Criminal Justice

NHPR

The New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union released a report today that details the practice of judges jailing poor people who can’t afford to pay fines – a practice that’s illegal.

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We talk with author Pete Earley, whose book “Crazy” examines how prisons and jails have become warehouses for people with mental illness. Earley describes his own struggle to help his bipolar son avoid incarceration, as well as the wider mental health system of a “revolving door” between hospitals and prisons.  

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Gov. Maggie Hassan has signed into law a bill meant to streamline felony cases.

Under the so-called Felonies First model, felony cases will be handled in the superior court system, instead of starting in circuit courts.

It also eliminates holding a probable cause hearing as a right. Instead, a judge will now determine if one is warranted.

The Strafford and Cheshire county superior courts will pilot the program starting in January. It will expand to Belknap County Superior Court in July of 2016.

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Rockingham County will pay an $80,000 settlement to a whistleblower in the Attorney General's investigation of former prosecutor Jim Reams.  The settlement with Jerome Blanchard comes after Blanchard filed a claim against the county for wrongful termination. It includes $54,000 in lost pay and damages, and $26,000 in attorneys fees.

Courtroom One Gavel
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Police and defense attorneys now have a second list of officers who – for more than two years- may not have been properly certified to give breath tests.

Deborah Brown / https://www.facebook.com/pages/Strafford-County-Courthouse

Every year, police officers who operate breathalyzer equipment have to get re-certified through an online course. 

Over the last year and a half, a software error re-certified about 110 officers who may not have been given the entire test.

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.

Reconsidering N.H. Sentencing Laws

Apr 15, 2015
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Decades of a tough-on-crime approach brought mandatory minimum sentences that many now say are too costly – both in social terms and dollars, as prison populations have soared. State lawmakers recently considered removing these for certain nonviolent offenders. But some are urging caution on behalf of public safety.

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SalFalko, Mentus Media / Flickr Creative Commons

 

For more than a decade leaders in New Hampshire’s courts have been trying to modernize the state’s judicial system. In 2001 they began a major effort to digitized files. More recently, they’ve consolidated the lower courts.

On Thursday, the House begins hearings on an effort to speed up felony prosecutions.

Although the bill would create a trial phase in just two counties, debate over the proposed change is rippling through the state’s criminal justice community.

 

How It Works Now

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.

Laws limiting where sex-offenders can live have been used in many towns and states aimed at protecting vulnerable populations, especially children. But a growing chorus of critics from police to civil rights attorneys argues these laws are unconstitutional and even counterproductive. We'll look at the options that communities have in dealing with this sensitive issue.

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New Hampshire Debates Body Cameras For Police

Feb 18, 2015
West Midlands Police / Flickr/CC

The national conversation over police use of force sparked by the deaths of unarmed suspects in Ferguson and New York City has been marked by unrest and divisive politics. But in the midst of this polarized debate, there is one change that nearly everyone agrees on: the need for more body cameras worn by police officers. Before the new technology is widely adopted though, questions of privacy, effectiveness, and cost will have to be addressed.

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