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Bar News - June 18, 2014

Opinion: New Hampshire Needs a New, Decentralized Criminal Justice System


David H. Mirsky
As a criminal defense attorney practicing in the state and federal courts of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, handling primarily homicide cases, I have had the opportunity to view different approaches to solving the problems facing criminal justice systems in general.

As a New Hampshire resident, I am acutely aware that, at times, it seems major homicide cases go unsolved and are relegated to the status of “cold” cases, which may or may not be receiving the kind of attention necessary to reach a satisfactory result.

While there are many ideas out there to improve things, and certainly higher pay to encourage and retain the high-quality professionalism of our police officers has to be at the top of that list, I am proposing one idea that I believe would help New Hampshire improve public safety. Here is my idea:

I believe the prosecution of homicides should no longer be handled from the central location of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office in Concord, but should instead be handled by each County Attorney Office in the 10 counties of New Hampshire. At present, the Attorney General’s Office exclusively carries out all murder investigations from its headquarters in Concord, a central location in our state, but far removed from the daily police and prosecutorial activities that take place outside the capital city.

To understand the benefits of decentralization in the investigation of murder cases, take a look at the example of Rockingham County. The Rockingham County Attorney’s Office is in Brentwood, the county’s geographic center. That office prosecutes most of the serious crimes that occur in Rockingham County, which includes Brentwood as well as 35 other towns and one city, Portsmouth. The Rockingham County Attorney is in a position to oversee and assist with criminal investigations in those places, a full-time job to say the least.

The attorneys and investigators who work at the NH Attorney General’s Office in Concord are charged with overseeing criminal and regulatory matters across the state. Those attorneys and investigators do not have the time to become deeply involved on a daily basis with all that is going on in the communities of Rockingham County. But the police and prosecutors who work in Rockingham County are in those places every day, doing their jobs and gaining valuable knowledge about what is going on locally.

The decentralization of the investigation and prosecution of murder cases in New Hampshire would accomplish the following:
  1. There would be quicker, more effective resolution of homicide cases because the investigations would be localized to where the information actually exists. Attorneys and investigators based in Concord would not need to travel all the way from Concord to the various locations to do the job. Information gathered would be better and more reliable, because local authorities know the most about local people, and every homicide case, at its root, is a local case.
  2. The attorneys and investigators of the NH Attorney General’s Office would be freed up to spend more time focusing on the statewide issues that only an Attorney General’s Office can handle.
  3. The quality of prosecution would improve in all County Attorney offices because the greater responsibility and demanding nature of investigating and prosecuting homicide cases would attract the best and the brightest people.
We need to have a dual system in New Hampshire whereby the NH Attorney General’s Office has the resources and the time to handle the complex, white-collar crime that is best handled by an office with a large number of attorneys and statewide prosecutorial jurisdiction; and where local County Attorney Offices are given the resources, expertise, and authority to do more of what they do best – keep the peace in our cities and towns.

So that’s my suggestion. Please feel free to respond with your suggestions and comments.

David H. Mirsky is a partner in Mirsky & Petito, Attorneys at Law, in Exeter. He handles homicide appeals, post-conviction litigation, and federal criminal matters, including US Supreme Court and habeas corpus litigation. He is a member of the Bar News Editorial Advisory Board.

Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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