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N.H. bill would reduce simple assault from misdemeanor to violation in some cases

Three state representatives – including two arrested in recent years for simple assault – have introduced a bill that would reduce simple assault from a misdemeanor crime to a violation-level offense in cases of physical contact that doesn’t result in any “harm or injury.”

Law enforcement officials and domestic-violence groups oppose the bill, saying it would empower bullies and abusers. But supporters say the current law is draconian and too broad.

“If you’re like I have been, you’ve found situations where this has been taken to egregious levels, to the point where the only harm committed, the only harm whatsoever – and serious harm, detrimental harm – occurs by the charge, from the assault charge,” Derry Republican Rep. Frank Sapareto told the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee yesterday. Sapareto was arrested last year for simple assault, though he’s fighting the charges.

Under state law, simple assault is, among other things, when someone “purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury or unprivileged physical contact to another.” It’s a misdemeanor that can carry up to a year in jail.

But if the bill passes, simple assault would be a violation-level offense in a case of “unprivileged physical contact” that “does not result in harm or injury.” In such cases, the punishment would be limited to a $100 fine and 10 hours of community service.

The bill is opposed by the state Department of Safety, the attorney general’s office and the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.

“This law would be especially popular with bullies and abusive spouses and ex-lovers, who would soon know just how far they could push the envelope without any serious consequences,” said Earl Sweeney, assistant commissioner of safety.

But Sapareto said the bill would save everyone time and money by preventing lengthy criminal prosecutions for minor incidents.

“If you bumped into a fellow legislator on the way here, would you want to have a warrant issued for your arrest? Because the law allows that to happen,” he said.

Sapareto spoke about the law from personal experience: Last year, he was arrested and charged with three counts of simple assault. He says he simply pushed a man who was threatening a woman, and his court case is ongoing.

In addition to Sapareto, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Keith Murphy and Rep. Kelleigh Murphy, both Bedford Republicans.

Kelleigh Murphy was arrested in 2009 for simple assault. Keith Murphy told the committee yesterday that his wife, who wasn’t able to attend the hearing, did nothing more than tap the shoulder of an employee at their Manchester restaurant, Murphy’s Taproom.

The employee later called the police after being fired, he said, and his wife was arrested, booked and eventually taken to court, where the charge was dropped.

“It was humiliating for her,” he said.

He added, “These are real issues and they do happen. So that’s why she and I decided to co-sponsor this bill. . . . She didn’t want to bring this all up again, after it’s finally buried. But she felt that she had to, to try to avoid this from happening again to somebody else.”

But Jill Rockey, executive director of the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire, told the committee yesterday that the bill would make it more difficult for the police to prosecute cases of domestic violence.

“Not all crimes leave physical bruising or injury,” she said. “For example, when you twist someone’s arm behind their back, when you slap them, when you hold them down on a bed so you can touch their intimate parts, when you spit at them – none of these acts leave a physical mark on a victim. That does not mean they should be classified as a violation.

“Batterers do everything they can to hide their crimes, and if this bill passed, it would make it impossible for prosecutors to convict batterers of domestic violence unless they caused bodily injury,” Rockey continued. “Is that really the type of standard we want to set at this time in New Hampshire?”

The committee heard nearly an hour of testimony yesterday but didn’t debate or vote on the bill.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Legacy Comments6

This bill needs to pass! The State of NH's Simple Assault and Domestic Violence Laws allow nothing but an open season on Men for emotionally scorned females through a boatload of draconian DV laws that are a complete travesty of justice. The current DV laws in teh State of NH are completely unconstitutional and violate the civil rights of Men and Fathers by ignoring rules of evidence and utilize preponderance and an illegal "primary aggressor arrest policy" implemented by every police department through a power grab of the queen of the the feminist misandrist's -OVW DIRECTOR Susan B. Carbon's self authored "Burgundy Book". The Violence Against Women Act is completely gender biased and only recognizes females, despite a continual barrage of reports about the epidemic that domestic violence has become, most men and women are law abiding citizens, loving spouses and caring parents. DV advocates promote the myth that women live in constant terror of violence from men, fanning the flames of gender warfare. Real Statistics prove that almost 50% of Domestic Violence victims are men. Gender feminists continue to contend that women can't assert power and control over men so she is the victim of his abuse giving women the right to file unproven accusations for restraining orders ruining the man, his good name and reputation. Parental kidnapping laws are ignored keeping the woman from facing felony, contempt and refusal to abide by custody decree charges; Jobs and Family Service step in using tax payer money to assist by moving women and children to another state where she can again file lies protected through VAWA and state agencies. Years pass, the mother continues the abuse keeping children from having contact with their father depriving him of all his parental rights. She can break the law and still keep custody. Do not be fooled... These are the NH laws that feminist activists like Amanda Grady Sexton and the NH Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NHCADSV) are trying to protect so that they can continue to profit from the destruction of Men and Fathers...

There is no acceptable form of violence but there wouldn't be possibly a push for such a modification if the current laws weren't a kneejerk reaction to a serious problem. The current laws are nothing more than giving law enforcement, the courts and advocates the right now to be the bullies. As they say, 2 wrongs don't make a right and it's hard to set an example or try to curb such irresponsible behavior as violence, when those who control the big picture actually become the biggest abuser and bully. Just being charged with "simple assault" is an automatic path to ruination to one's reputation, even if innocent. Rather than make new laws to make it easier, just correct the existing ones to allow for true "due process", not mock justice.

Absolutely, same as the Reps who wanted to impeach the judges because they didn't like their decisions. Always wondered why so many people want to be Reps for $100 a year.

If one was to empty a 5 shot clip "at" someone but failed to hit them - would that be attempted murder, simple assault, a violation-level offense because no was actually hurt or just a fine for being a bad shot?...... I think the lawyers will love this bill!!!

What's next - decriminalize drug use by representatives convicted of drug use? Dropping speed limits?

Nothing like having Convicted Criminals writing our laws. What could possibly go wrong ????

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