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House committee recommends killing sexual assault corroboration bill 



Monitor staff
Wednesday, February 08, 2017

A House committee recommended unanimously Wednesday to kill a bill that would require corroboration of a victim’s testimony in certain sexual assault cases.

House Bill 106 met strong opposition at a public hearing last month, where law enforcement officials, prosecutors and sexual assault survivors said the bill would protect sexual predators and cause more children harm.

Republican Reps. Jess Edwards and William Marsh wrote a letter to committee members a few days after the hearing to say they would understand if the bill didn’t survive. They said they had spoken with dozens of people, and that an “overwhelming number” expressed concern about the message the bill would send.

Marsh said he introduced the bill after learning about the case of Foad Afshar, a Concord psychologist who was convicted of sexually molesting a young patient during a therapy session. Marsh’s daughter was a student of Afshar’s at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and brought the case to his attention.

Afshar, who maintains his innocence, was sentenced this past August to three to six years in prison. He has since appealed his convictions to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, as well as filed a motion for a new trial in Merrimack County Superior Court.

HB 106 would have required corroboration of a sexual assault victim’s testimony only in cases where the defendant had no prior criminal record, which was true of Afshar. Many proponents of the bill cited the Afshar case and said an amendment to the law would prevent wrongful convictions.

New Hampshire is one of 36 states that does not require corroboration, according to Roger Canaff, a legal expert on the investigation and prosecution of child abuse and sexual assault cases. Canaff, who has practiced law in New York and Virginia, said in an interview last month that 13 states require corroboration in limited circumstances, such as if there are questions about a victim’s mental competency.

The House Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety also voted 19-1 against a second bill that would have changed “victim” to “complainant” in jury instruction in all sexual assault cases. Committee vice-chairman Frank Sapareto, a Derry Republican, was the lone vote in favor of House Bill 284.

The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence opposed both HB 106 and HB 284.

Public policy director, Amanda Grady Sexton, said after the vote Wednesday that the coalition is pleased with the vote and urges the full House to support the committee’s recommendations.

“Both HB 106 and HB 284 send an obvious message to victims of sexual assault that they are less credible than other victims of a crime,” Grady Sexton said. “If passed, these bills will create a blueprint for sexual predators for how to get away with sexual assault, and would leave New Hampshire with some of the weakest sexual assault laws in the nation.”

Both bills will go to the full House for a vote as early as next week.

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