N.H. House passes custodial rape bill; Sununu intends to sign

  • Former Belknap County sheriff’s deputy Ernest Justin Blanchette appears at his trial in Hillsborough County Superior Court North in Manchester on Thursday, April 28, 2016. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 4/19/2018 3:38:48 PM

A bill meant to make clear that people under law enforcement control cannot consent to sex is on its way to the governor’s office to be signed.

State representatives Thursday morning passed an amended version of House Bill 1564, which seeks to protect anyone held by law enforcement from sexual abuse – even those not under arrest but otherwise detained.

The bill changes language in New Hampshire’s custodial rape law that would make sex between any law enforcement officer and anyone “not free to leave,” punishable as aggravated felonious sexual assault.

Gov. Chris Sununu has previously expressed his support for the bill, and his office said Thursday that he intends to sign it.

HB 1564 was introduced by Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat, after the state’s Supreme Court overturned former Belknap County sheriff’s deputy Ernest Justin Blanchette’s rape conviction, citing ambiguities in the aggravated felonious sexual assault statute. Cushing argued that the bill will ensure people who transport inmates to and from a correctional facility can’t escape prosecution for having sex with prisoners.

Prosecutors said Blanchette had used his authority as a deputy sheriff to coerce a female inmate into having sex. However, Blanchette argued on appeal that the state failed to prove its case, as he was not working directly for the Belknap County jail or the state prison during the transport.

The Supreme Court ruled in Blanchette’s favor in May 2017, and he was released from prison.

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