Prison and Justice Reporting

An ongoing series of stories on New Hampshire's criminal justice system, with a focus on the experience of those people moving through the state's corrections system. 

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The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to reconsider the case of New Hampshire’s only person on death row, Michael Addison.

In October, Addison’s attorney David Rothstein filed a petition with the nation’s Supreme Court arguing that in allowing and refusing certain pieces of evidence during trial, the New Hampshire Supreme Court violated the eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects citizens from cruel and unusual punishment.

Ryan Lessard for NHPR

The University of New Hampshire at Manchester and White Mountains Community College are partnering to allow students in certain programs to pay community college tuition rates for a four-year degree.

The program will be available to students with an Associate's degree in Criminal Justice or Internet Technology from White Mountains Community College.  After receiving that degree, students could go on to receive a Bachelor's degree from UNH Manchester while continuing to pay only the Community College tuition costs. 

Patrick Mansell / flickr Creative Commons

 A Senate committee has approved Emily Gray Rice to serve as U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire.

Rice, who was nominated by President Barak Obama, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. She would need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte have said they would support Rice.

AP Pool

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post in September, Orleans Public Defender Tina Peng wrote, “because we don’t have enough lawyers on staff, the week I passed the bar in 2013, I began representing people facing mandatory life sentences on felony charges.” Her caseload is double the maximum recommended by the American Bar Association; high turnover means after two years on the job, she’s one of the more senior attorneys on staff.

New Hampshire Bar Association Past Presidents

  Twenty-seven past presidents of the New Hampshire Bar Association are defending a judicial nominee whose confirmation failed in the Executive Council earlier this month.

The attorneys purchased half-page ads in the Concord Monitor and the Union-Leader that ask three Republican Executive Councilors to reconsider their votes not to confirm long-time public defender Dorothy Graham for the Superior Court bench.

Graham is the managing attorney for the Manchester Public Defenders office.

Courtroom One Gavel
Joe Gratz / Flickr Creative Commons

For the first time in recent memory, New Hampshire’s Executive Council voted not to confirm an attorney nominated to a seat on the state's Superior Court bench. The Republican councilors who voted not to confirm Dorothy Graham, a longtime public defender, said they did so because of her history defending individuals accused of crimes -- particularly sex crimes against children. As word spreads of the scuttled nomination, some among the state’s legal community are voicing concern.

11.03.15: Snitching, Tig Notaro, and Cancer

Nov 3, 2015
Paul Robinson via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/ccYWqo

Snitches, rats, finks, and narcs – criminal informants may not be popular among their peers, but are crucial to the work of law enforcement. Today, the risks investigators face when it uses criminals to catch other criminals. Then, 2012 was a rough year for comedian Tig Notaro. She suffered a serious intestinal infection, the death of her mother, a major break-up, and the kicker, she was diagnosed with cancer. She explains why she chose to announce her cancer diagnosis to a roomful of strangers during a stand-up set.

OZinOH via Flickr CC / https://flic.kr/p/4iiMnW

The US says it will open its doors to at least 10,000 refugees fleeing turmoil in Syria, but that doesn’t mean open arms. Today, we’ll learn about the detention process that keeps asylum seekers behind bars for months – even years – in hidden facilities across the country. Plus, a look at the upcoming lineup for this weekend’s New Hampshire Film Festival – including a documentary about the Gore Vidal vs. William F. Buckley debates that turned televised political debates into blood sport. 

www.BackgroundNow.com / Flickr/Creative Commons

Governor Maggie Hassan announced six judicial nominees Tuesday.  According to the Hassan, all were recommended by the Governor’s Judicial Selection Committee.  

                                 

Fines & Incarceration in N.H.

Sep 28, 2015
Peter Stinson / Flickr/CC

A new New Hampshire ACLU report says that too many Granite Staters go to jail because they can't afford to pay court fines. We're looking at how this system works and whether it needs to change.

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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.

Michael Coughlin / Flickr/CC

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.  

www.BackgroundNow.com / Flickr/Creative Commons

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.

avvo.com

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
Joe Gratz / Flickr Creative Commons

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
Thomas Hawk / Flickr/cc

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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