Felonies First data collection requested in new year

  • Stock gavel in court

Monitor staff
Saturday, December 16, 2017

With input from two county attorneys, members of the New Hampshire Judicial Council have finalized their request for data that will aid in a more thorough evaluation of a statewide program designed to streamline felony cases.

The council is requesting that county prosecutors, defense attorneys, as well as law enforcement, corrections and court officials maintain certain information, if possible, that will allow for more comprehensive assessments of Felonies First in future years. While the council does not have the authority to require data collection, members say they’re hopeful the state’s 10 counties will do their part to ensure the new program can be properly evaluated.

The Felonies First pilot program began in Strafford and Cheshire counties in January 2016. The rollout of the program in those counties signaled a major change in how felony cases are prosecuted in New Hampshire. However, almost two years later, a full assessment of the program is just beginning – and that’s because all 10 counties just came on board Oct. 1.

Cheshire County Attorney Chris McLaughlin and Strafford County Attorney Tom Velardi told the council at a meeting last week that Felonies First has built a lot of efficiencies into the system that will be realized by other counties in time.

“I truly believe and I wish I could give you all a measure of this with empirical certainty, but it has increased the efficiency of what the lawyers are doing in the superior court,” Velardi said. “We’re having substantive conversations about how to fairly resolve a case within days of it hitting the county attorney’s office. That’s a huge change, to be having real conversations that are actually helping citizens. … That’s what I see, but I just wish I could put it in a box and show of all you.”

Under Felonies First, more serious criminal cases are handled in the state’s superior courts, instead of starting in the circuit courts, where they had been traditionally filed. The circuit courts do not have the authority to resolve felony cases, which is why they were forwarded to superior court after a probable cause determination.

Felonies First eliminates the automatic probable cause hearing, although the defense can still request one at the superior court level.

Prior to the start of the new year, Sarah Blodgett, the executive director of the council, will be contacting various stakeholders to share the council’s hopes for data collection, beginning Jan. 1. That information includes dispositional data from the courts, a breakdown of the cases submitted by law enforcement to county attorneys where no charges were filed or where only a stand-alone misdemeanor charge was filed, as well as intake data pre- and post-Felonies First from the county jails and state prisons.

State law mandates that the council submit a report to the Speaker of the House, Senate President and chairpersons of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees on Felonies First each year, beginning in July 2017 and ending in January 2020.

The council’s most recent report – the second of its kind – was published in October and concluded that anecdotal information provided limited insight into the program. As a result, the council has convened twice since then to brainstorm ways communities can improve data collection on Felonies First, and retrain it for future review.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)