Domestic violence includes any type of abuse or stalking incidents that occur between family members or people who share an intimate relationship. Currently, 35 states have laws that specifically address domestic violence crimes. New Hampshire is not one of those states. The only domestic violence related statutes in New Hampshire law is RSA 173-B which includes rules pertinent to obtaining a protective order in cases of domestic violence. This is a very important law and New Hampshire courts report that they regularly hear about 8,000 requests for protective orders and stalking cases. Some, however, are looking at changes that can be made to New Hampshire's laws to help police and judges better identify domestic violence crimes and help victims.
Making Domestic Violence a Crime in New Hampshire
In the state of New Hampshire domestic violence is believed to be involved in at least half of the homicides and 92% of the murder suicides that take place. The New Hampshire Union Leader published an article that discusses a bill that has was introduced by the Senate to make domestic violence a crime. The bill is called Senate Bill 318 or Joshua's Law and gets its name from Joshua Savyon. Joshua was killed by his father last August during a court ordered supervised visit. His father, who also turned the gun on himself, was under a domestic violence protective order after threatening to kill his son and wife. Joshua's mother, Becky Ranus, testified before the Senate last month to give her support for the bill. The article states:
"Joshua's mother told me that she never recognized the signs of domestic violence in her own relationship with Joshua's father," said the bill's prime sponsor Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester. "This law would not only shed more light on the issue of domestic violence, but it also would assist others in getting services and protections earlier in the process."
Soucy also said that the proposed bill would not change existing criminal laws or the penalties for the crimes but would help classify them under the domestic violence umbrella and help courts and law enforcement better handle that those type of cases. Much of the Joshua's Law is similar to federal domestic violence laws and requires proof that the crime involved a family member or someone with an intimate relationship to the defendant. The law would also help clarify what is and what is not considered domestic violence. This will make it easier for judges to set terms for release and place protective orders. So far, the bill has support from chiefs of police, county sheriffs and attorneys, the attorney general and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and was endorsed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It seems very likely that this law will be passed.
Protecting Pets from Domestic Violence in NH
In addition to Joshua's law, The Sea Coast Online is also reporting that another law is being proposed, House Bill 1410 which will protect family pets which have been abused and/or used as pawns in domestic violence situations. The Bill was started with the help of The New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NHSPCA) who feels that domestic violence perpetrators often use animals as a way to inflict further suffering to their victims. Whether it includes physically harming the animals or using them as pawns, it can have a huge impact on the emotional stability of a domestic violence victim, especially a child.
The law would give animals kept as pets the same legal protections as a human when it comes to domestic violence. This means that it would also allow for victims to petition the court for “exclusive care, custody, or control of any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by the petitioner, defendant, or a minor child in either household.” Similar to a protection order for a person, a judge could also grant an order preventing an alleged abuser from going near an animal, committing cruelty, getting rid of the animal or transporting the animal in anyway. Anyone who violates this order would be subject to criminal charges. The Bill was cosponsored by Senate Martha Fuller Clarke who states that:
“By covering pets under this statute, we hope to make it a criminal offense to try to terrorize someone using their pets as victims,” said Fuller Clark. “Most people feel like pets are a part of their household and this would provide another protection to households threatened by domestic violence.”
Both Maine and Massachusetts currently have similar laws that were passed in the past 8 years. Advocates believe that giving animals the same rights as humans will deter abusers from using them as pawns in domestic violence situations. Sheila Ryan, the director of marketing and development for the HHSPCA tells The Sea Coast Online that she has seen many situations were animals have been hurt as a result of domestic violence and “victims manipulated through control of their pets ".
Many times, the control of a pet can be the difference between victims choosing to leave an abusive situation versus staying. Many people fear leaving their beloved pets behind for fear that they will be victimized in some way by the abuser. This law could help victims get out of dangerous situations sooner. Especially when children are involved, leaving a family pet behind can be quite traumatic and even more so when they fear that harm will come to it.
The Future of NH Domestic Violence Law
Both of these laws seem to have a lot of support both from the Criminal Justice And Safety Committee and local groups such as animal advocates and law enforcement. If these laws are passed, it could have significant impact for anyone that is accused of domestic violence in New Hampshire. Though the actual offense will likely include the same charges and potential penalties, if it is classified as domestic violence, an offender could be denied bail and barred from seeing family and even pets. Even without these laws, anyone accused of a domestic violence type offense should contact an attorney right away.