Bar News - May 20, 2015
Court News: The Fate of Felonies First?
By: Kristen Senz
“Felonies First,” a court plan that would see county attorneys filing felony charges directly in Superior Court, was still pending before the House Judiciary Committee as of Bar News press time.
The committee held a public hearing April 16 on the plan that has divided the defense bar. The NH Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has come out against the proposal, championed by NH Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau.
The NH Public Defender, NH Judicial Council and the NH Attorney General spoke in support of SB 124-FN, which also would eliminate automatic probable cause hearings in felony cases.
NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis, speaking at the public hearing, said the proposal is representative of a shift in the Judicial Branch attitude.
In the same way that “tokens have given way to E-Z Pass,” the justice system must embrace changes that increase operational efficiency, Dalianis said.
The proposed law would require earlier discovery and, Nadeau hopes, more accurate charging decisions by prosecutors at the onset of cases. Including the earlier discovery deadlines in the proposed statute – rather than enacting them by Supreme Court rule – was a way to make “an important statement,” Nadeau said. The deadlines are designed to be the same as what defense attorneys typically see when they agree to waive a probable cause hearing in exchange for early discovery in the current system.
An amendment to the bill proposed by defense attorney Mike Iacopino at the request of Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Robert Rowe would require superior court judges to grant probable cause hearings whenever they are requested; the bill as written provides for judicial discretion.
The bill, which has already passed the Senate, would go before the full House in June if approved by the committee this month. If passed, the new system would be implemented in Strafford and Cheshire counties as a pilot programs for 18 months before being rolled out statewide.