Governor Maggie Hassan is expected to sign into a law a bill that would create “Joshua’s Law,” named after a young boy who was shot and killed by his father at a Manchester visitation center last year. The law does not change current law or enhance penalties, but rather it gathers all of the existing laws under one section of the state’s criminal code. New Hampshire is currently one of only 15 states that does not have a separate classification for domestic violence.
Gov. Hassan said in a news release shortly after the Senate passed the bill, “Passing Joshua’s Law to establish a crime of domestic violence is a common-sense step that will improve the safety of our families by helping law enforcement and prosecutors better identify and stop repeat abusers. The measure will also increase understanding of domestic violence and help victims access support and protections as early as possible.”
Currently someone who assaults or makes a threat toward a domestic partner or family member could face charges under one of 17 state statues – including simple assault, criminal threatening, or others. The new law would allow law enforcement to charge an assailant with domestic violence, which would be treated different than assault by a stranger. Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice has said this change would improve the accuracy of state records, which would lead to improved federal reporting. Currently the state does not have a crime of domestic violence which leads to chronic abusers going unrecognized, according to some state officials.
Additionally, Rice testified during hearings regarding this bill that half of the state’s homicides and 92 percent of the state’s murder-suicides involve domestic violence. She said adding a law that would clarify whether someone is a chronic abuser could help law enforcement officials.
The new law would be added to RSA 631 and would declare a person guilty of domestic violence if they commit certain crimes against a family or household member or an intimate partner. Those crimes include bodily injury by physical force or a deadly weapon, threatens to use a deadly weapon, forces one to submit to sexual contact, violates a protective order, or blocks a person’s cell phone or other electronic communication device.
This law would be a class A misdemeanor unless the person threatens to use a deadly weapon, in which case it’s elevated to a class B felony.
Supporters of the bill say it is important to make a distinction between an assault that happens when someone throws a punch at a bar and when someone throws a punch at home. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors say it would also be helpful by knowing specifically what is domestic violence – which they say is important during bail hearing or for setting release conditions.
The bill has gone back to the Senate because of changes the House made, however, the bill initially passed the Senate with a large majority and it is expected to once again be approved and sent to the Governor’s desk for her approval.
The attorneys at Tenn And Tenn, P.A. have years of experience working in family law. If you need help, set up a consultation with one of our New Hampshire family law attorneys by calling (603) 624-3700 or completing our online contact form.