Bail reform fix attracts bipartisan support from Legislature, governor

  • The new women’s prison in Concord is shown. New Hampshire lawmakers are poised to make changes to last year’s legislation on bail sentencing. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 5/8/2019 6:47:41 PM

A year after passing a sweeping bill to reduce cash bail orders, New Hampshire lawmakers are poised to make a course correction.

By voice vote Wednesday, the House passed Senate Bill 314, which would make changes to last year’s legislation on bail sentencing.

That earlier bill, Senate Bill 556, signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu, overhauled judicial guidelines for pre-trial release. Under the law, most alleged criminal offenders must be released by police departments on personal recognizance, unless a judge determines them a danger to themselves or their community.

The bill was pressed for by civil rights advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, which said it would reduce incidents of non-violent low-income defendants stuck behind bars because of an inability to post bail.

But the legislation received backlash from district court judges and county attorneys, who said it included too many qualifications as to what constituted a “danger” and set up confusing standards liable for misinterpretation. SB 314 would eliminate that list of qualifications in favor of language for “all relevant factors bearing on whether the release will endanger the safety of that person or the public,” among other tweaks.

The bill passed the Senate by voice vote in March, and on Wednesday got a nod of approval from the governor, who called it “another step in the right direction.”

“Earlier this year I called for strengthening New Hampshire’s bail reform law and I am pleased to see that the legislature has taken bipartisan action,” Sununu said. “It is critical to close loopholes that could potentially allow dangerous suspects from causing harm in our communities while they await trial.

SB 314 will head through the enrollment process in he coming weeks, and eventually to Sununu’s desk.




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