New Domestic Violence Laws Affect Civil and Criminal Practice
By: Kristen Senz
Domestic Violence in NH:
A 24-Hour Snapshot
Each year, the National Network to End Domestic Violence publishes a snapshot of the domestic violence services provided in each state during a 24-hour period.
On Sept. 17, 2013, all of the crisis centers in New Hampshire reported service statistics for the day to the national network:
299 victims received services, including 130 who found help at emergency shelters or transitional housing and 169 who received non-residential assistance, including counseling, legal advocacy, and children’s support groups.
189 hotline calls were answered
68 people attended eight training sessions on domestic violence prevention and early intervention
52 requests for services were unmet, of which 85 percent (44) were requests for housing. Other unmet needs included legal representation, financial assistance and transportation.
Across the state, 14 crisis center staff positions were eliminated during 2013, and most of them were direct service providers, including advocates and shelter staff, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
For more information about the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, visit www.nhcadsv.org. For more information about the NHBA Pro Bono Program’s DOVE Project, please visit www.nhbar.org.
In what has been a landmark legislative year for advocates of domestic violence victims in New Hampshire, the NH Legislature recently passed seven bills aimed at preventing relationship violence and strengthening protections for victims.
The new laws codify the crime of domestic violence, strengthen the state’s human trafficking law, and enable the court to terminate the parental rights of rapists and to order that supervised visitation take place in centers with certain security measures in place. Additionally, civil domestic violence orders will be able to include protection for household animals; employers will be prohibited from discriminating against victims; and a committee will study sexual abuse prevention education in elementary and secondary schools.
Senate Bill 318, also known as Joshua’s Law, establishes the crime of domestic violence by creating a new section of NH RSA Chapter 631, without creating any new substantive offenses. After the law takes effect Jan. 1, assault and related offenses – against a household relative or current or former romantic partner or guardian – can be charged as domestic violence. The new classification automatically elevates the charge to a Class A misdemeanor.
“All of the crimes encapsulated in the new statute are already susceptible to Class A determination, but almost none of them are Class A by designation,” said James Shepard, an attorney in Concord who regularly represents victims of domestic violence through the NH Bar Association’s Domestic Violence Emergency (DOVE) Project.
Currently, if the prosecution wishes to charge an assault or related offense as a Class A misdemeanor, a notice must first be filed with the defendant prior to or at arraignment. “Now that all of the crimes that are incorporated into Joshua’s Law are Class A… it relieves the prosecution of that additional step,” said Shepard, who also serves on the NH Bar Association Board of Governors.
The new domestic violence classification also will help ensure that the court knows whether an offender should be subject to a federal law that permanently prohibits anyone convicted of a domestic violence-related assault from owning or purchasing guns or ammunition.
The NH Administrative Office of the Courts had advocated legislation similar to Joshua’s Law since 2007, when the FBI notified the state that it would be “seeking an electronic record of conviction for a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” said Betsy Paine, domestic violence specialist for the NH Circuit Court.
In 2010, the AOC instituted a new form for judges to fill out at conviction or sentencing to document the elements the federal government was requiring, but that required judges to determine whether there was proper evidence of a qualifying relationship.
“It’s just much easier to do the designation on the charging end, to have a designated statute and a statutory code,” Paine said, adding that the new charge also makes tracking domestic violence statistics easier for the court.
Supervised visitation centers
Terminating parental rights of rapists
Strengthens human trafficking laws
(Joshua’s Law) Domestic violence criminal charge
Committee to study abuse prevention education
Prohibits workplace discrimination against victims
Includes protection of animals in civil order
On the civil side, HB 1410 adds cruelty to animals to the definition of “abuse” in RSA 173-B and allows the court to grant the petitioner custody of pets and livestock in a protective order. Paine said the AOC is in the process of updating court forms to reflect the change.
The new animal cruelty provision represents “an interesting evolution of the Legislature’s understanding of what domestic violence is,” Shepard said. “If you don’t have kids together, threatening to kill something else that you love is often used as a form of control.”
Another new law with a potential impact on family law practice is Senate Bill 205, which is related to the safety of supervised visitation centers in New Hampshire. The law allows judges to specify that court-ordered supervised visitation take place at a center equipped with metal detectors and trained security personnel on-site. It also establishes a commission to study the availability of supervised visitation centers and other related factors, including whether the centers should be licensed.
The recent closure of the YWCA visitation center in Manchester, where the namesake for Joshua’s Law, 9-year-old Joshua Savyon, was shot dead by his father last August, already has attorneys worried about a backlog, in addition to concerns over safety. A new visitation center is scheduled to open soon in Dover, but that does little to relieve demand in Hillsborough County.
“The financial realities of supervised visitation are really significant,” Paine said. “There’s significantly more demand than there are resources.”
In addition to costs related to implementing security measures, centers must train security personnel in proper procedures to follow if someone does attempt to bring in a concealed weapon. In response to a shortage of resources, centers in Nashua and Antrim have already reduced visitation to one day per week.
Among the other domestic violence-related laws the Legislature passed were Senate Bills 317 and 253, which allow the termination of rapists’ parental rights and strengthen the state’s laws against human trafficking, respectively. Along with Joshua’s Law, these two bills were lobbying priorities for the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
“In some states, in some sessions, a single legislative victory would be noteworthy; we’re ecstatic over this trifecta of bills,” said Lyn Schollett, an attorney and the new executive director of the coalition. “…We are so appreciative to the people and organizations who went above and beyond their everyday work to lend their support to these bills.”
Schollett, who served as general counsel and registered lobbyist for the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault for nearly 17 years, said it was eye-opening “to move from a big state with a relatively small legislature that allocates enormous amounts of funds, to a small state with a giant legislature with a relatively small budget.”
Also passed this session was Senate Bill 390 (prohibiting employment discrimination against victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and stalking). The bill was amended from its original language to remove the “reasonable accommodations” section, according to Jessica Eskeland, the coalition’s public policy coordinator. The bill also established a study commission to look at whether the accommodations would cause undue hardship to employers.
Finally, SB 348 establishes a commission to study sexual abuse prevention education in elementary and secondary schools. The New Hampshire Bar Association’s new outreach program, When Love Hurts, brings volunteer attorneys into middle and high schools to teach students about the civil and criminal laws related to relationship abuse. For more information, visit the Law Related Education page on the bar’s website.