In New Hampshire, domestic violence occurs when a person commits one of several violent crimes against a spouse, family or household member, or against an individual with whom the person has had an intimate relationship. A victim of domestic abuse may seek a protective order from the courts, and a defendant who violates the terms of a protective order may be charged with contempt of court as well as any crimes committed in the process of violating the order.
New Hampshire defines domestic violence as the commission or attempted commission of one of the following offenses against a victim who is a family or household member or a current or former sexual or intimate partner of the offender:
- assault or reckless conduct
- criminal threatening
- sexual assault
- interference with freedom
- destruction of property
- unauthorized entry, and
The offense or attempted offense must represent a credible threat to the safety of the victim. “Family or household member” refers to current or former spouses, persons who currently or formerly cohabitated with each other, parents, and persons related by blood or marriage other than minor children who live with the defendant. Intimate partners are people who are currently or were previously involved in a romantic relationship, regardless of whether they engaged in sexual activity.
A police officer may make an arrest without a warrant, even after the violence has occurred and no one is in imminent danger, if the officer has probable cause to believe that a person has committed domestic violence. This is a variation of the normal rule, which requires police to obtain an arrest warrant from a judge or magistrate, unless the circumstances require immediate action.
(N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 173-B:1, 173-B:10)
A person who has either been the victim of domestic abuse or fears being subjected to domestic abuse may ask a judge for a protective order. The person filing the petition, referred to as the plaintiff, may request that the court order the alleged abuser (referred to as the defendant) to refrain from certain behavior.
The court may issue a temporary protective order where the plaintiff is in immediate danger of abuse, and the temporary order may be issued without notifying the defendant prior issuing the order. Once a temporary protective order has been issued, the defendant may request a hearing. After giving both the plaintiff and the defendant the opportunity to present evidence, the court may issue a final protective order if it finds that there is a credible threat to the plaintiff’s safety.
Both temporary and final protective orders may include one or more of the following provisions that:
- prohibit the defendant from abusing the plaintiff, the plaintiff’s relatives, or members of the plaintiff’s household
- bar the defendant from entering the plaintiff’s residence or the area surrounding the residence
- prohibit the defendant from retaining the plaintiff’s property that is specified in the order
- award child custody to either the plaintiff or defendant, or to the department of health and human services if it is determined that placement with the department is in the best interests of the child
- denying the defendant child visitation, or ordering supervised visitation where it is determined that the plaintiff or children are not at risk of psychological or physical harm
- requiring the defendant to turn over any firearms or deadly weapons to law enforcement
- prohibiting the defendant from contacting the plaintiff or from entering the plaintiff’s school, workplace, or any other place frequented by the plaintiff or members of the plaintiff’s family or household, and
- order the defendant not to take, convert, or damage property that the plaintiff has a legal or equitable interest in.
The court may also grant the plaintiff exclusive use of a vehicle, home, and furniture if the defendant has a legal duty to support the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s children. Additionally, the court may order the defendant to continue making mortgage or rental payments, and to refrain from doing anything that will cause utilities or other services to be cancelled.
(N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 173:B-4, 173:B-5)
Violating protective orders: Police duties & criminal penalties
When a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a defendant has violated the terms of a temporary or protective order, the officer must arrest the defendant. The officer can make the arrest without a warrant if the violation occurred within the preceding 12 hours, regardless of whether the violation took place within the officer’s presence. Following making the arrest, the officer must seize any firearms in owned or possessed by the defendant, as well as any deadly weapons used in committing the violation.
Under New Hampshire law, a defendant may be charged with both criminal contempt for violating the protective order and with criminal charges for the conduct that resulted in the violation. In other words, a defendant who assaults the plaintiff in violation of a protective order may be face charges of criminal contempt and assault.
A defendant who intentionally violates a protective order is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, which carries up to a year in jail. If the defendant has a prior conviction for violating a protective order and commits a new offense involving abuse within six years of the prior conviction (or within six years of the completion of the sentence for the prior conviction), the prior conviction will enhance the severity of the new offense. For example, a person who commits what would otherwise be a Class B misdemeanor against his spouse will be treated as having committed a Class A misdemeanor (which carry more severe penalties than Class B misdemeanors) if the person has a prior conviction for violating a protective order within the preceding six years.
(N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 173-B:9, 651:2)
Consult with an Attorney
If you are charged with committing a domestic violence offense or if you are named as the defendant in a petition for a domestic violence protective order, you should speak with an attorney. A conviction for a domestic violence offense can carry severe penalties including incarceration. A protective order can affect your rights as a parent and property owner. An experienced attorney will advise you of your options, work to protect your rights, and provide you with critical guidance throughout the pendency of your case.