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Bar News - August 17, 2016

Rules Committee Votes to Recommend ‘Debtors’ Prison’ Rules

The NH Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Rules voted 8-7 at a special meeting July 5 to recommend to the Court amendments to the rules of criminal procedure designed to address concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union about incarceration of indigent defendants over failure to pay fines.

The new rules create a one-year pilot project during which defendants who fail to pay fines will be assigned a court-appointed attorney, at state expense, who will represent the defendant at a hearing to determine his or her ability to pay the outstanding fine. The rules were drafted in response to a study by the New Hampshire chapter of the ACLU and UNH Law Professor Buzz Scherr that showed some judges were routinely sending people to jail to pay off fines at a rate of $50 per day.

The rules committee adopted the following comment in association with the amended rule: “Rule 29(e) is effective for one year as a pilot program, with renewal subject to legislation. At the conclusion of six months and again at the end of the pilot program, the New Hampshire Judicial Council and the New Hampshire Circuit Court shall provide a report to the Governor, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, the chairs of the Finance Committee for the Senate and the House, and the Advisory Committee on Rules, describing, at a minimum, the number of people provided counsel, the outcome of each case, and the costs associated with the provision of counsel.”

The Committee recognized that there are some technical issues that need to be addressed with respect to the most recent proposal submitted by the ACLU-NH. A recommendation to adopt the rule changes was to be submitted by the committee to the Supreme Court as soon as possible after those technical issues were addressed.

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