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Bar News - January 15, 2014

Criminal Law: Codifying NH Criminal Laws


On Feb. 14, 1967, the New Hampshire Legislature established a commission to “revise, codify and amend” the criminal laws and to arrange them “in a systematic, condensed and annotated form.”

The staff of the law library used to be asked frequently to compile legislative histories of bits and pieces of the 1971 changes. Finally, tired of the piecemeal approach, we gathered all the documents about the codification that we could find and posted the Codification of New Hampshire’s Criminal Laws on the law library’s website.

The opening page is a timeline that takes the reader from the creation of the commission in 1967 through 1973 when the code went into effect. Library staff went to the State Archives and scanned all the committee files we could find (two files, the House Judiciary and Senate Finance files for HB 326, 1967, are missing), as well as the Report of Commission to Codify New Hampshire’s Criminal Laws (a.k.a. HB 904, 1969; a.k.a. “the little green production”). This report contains the proposed text for the new criminal code, with comments sections after each proposal. The comments explain the source of the draft (the Model Penal Code, the Michigan Revised Criminal Code, Final Draft, and the New York Penal Law, 1967, were cited frequently) and discussions of various aspects of the proposed code.

Once the report was issued, a joint judiciary committee held four public hearings and many executive sessions on the proposal. We scanned and posted transcripts from the public hearings, but nothing from the executive sessions has been uncovered.

The timeline also includes links to the Internet Archive, which holds digitized versions of the Laws of the State of New Hampshire and the House and Senate legislative journals. Because navigating through the journals online can be clumsy, we reproduced the journal indexes in the timeline and linked to each digitized page individually to make access easier. Though Google Books appears to be better known among non-librarians, the Internet Archive (, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library, holds many New Hampshire historical legal resources.

A few highlights:
• Apparently much to their surprise, there were three members appointed to the commission: Richard H. Keefe (clerk of court in Strafford Superior Court), Clifford J. Ross (a criminal defense attorney in private practice), and Frank R. Kenison (Chief Justice of the NH Supreme Court). According to the Chief Justice, “… none of those that were appointed applied for the job - and as a matter of fact I didn’t know I was on the Commission until two weeks after I had been appointed.” Professor Sanford J. Fox of Boston College Law School was hired to research and draft the changes. This was his first stint in statute revision.
• The Legislature appropriated $20,000 for the job, but the commission spent only $14,000. The members served without pay. In comparison, New York appropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars and then had to go back to their legislature for more.
• The commission had 22 formal meetings over a period of 14 months and amassed four-inch-thick folders of correspondence. Unfortunately, no documents from these meetings have been found.
• Although law enforcement was well represented at the public hearings, professor Fox stated that no member of the judiciary, no one from the correctional system, no member of the bar, no one from the general business community, and no one in government service came to speak at the public hearings. (4 U. Mich. J.L. Reform 443 1970-1971).
• The committee submitted three sections of the commission’s report in two other bills: HB 252 (abortion) and HB 489 (sentence for murder and proceedings to determine sentence for murder). Neither bill made it into law.

Mary Searles is the law librarian at the New Hampshire Law Library. This is the first in a series of articles submitted to Bar News by the New Hampshire Association of Law Librarians to provide law practitioners with practical information on legal research.

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