N.H. bill aiming to close rape case loophole nears end of legislative process

  • Rep. Renny Cushing talks with the Senate Judiciary public hearing on Wednesday, March 20, 2018, about his proposed amendment to House Bill 1564. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Friday, April 13, 2018

A bill aimed at strengthening New Hampshire’s custodial rape law is just one step away from the governor’s desk.

On Thursday morning, the state Senate passed House Bill 1564, which has received bipartisan support since it was introduced this legislative sessions by Rep. Renny Cushing.

Cushing, a Hampton Democrat, put forward the bill after learning that the state’s Supreme Court overturned former Belknap County sheriff’s deputy Ernest Justin Blanchette’s rape conviction, citing ambiguities in the current law. By closing a loophole in the aggravated felonious sexual assault statute, state lawmakers will ensure that people who transport inmates to and from a correctional facility can’t escape prosecution for having sex with prisoners under their control, he said.

The Senate approved an amendment to the bill that seeks to protect anyone held by law enforcement from sexual abuse – even those not under arrest but otherwise detained.

The amended version of HB 1564 will go back to the House for a vote. It is expected representatives will send the bill along to Gov. Chris Sununu to be signed into law.

“With passage, New Hampshire establishes a firm law that sex with anyone who is in custody or in any situation where a victim is not free to leave is rape,” Cushing said in an email statement Thursday.

On appeal, Blanchette argued that Hillsborough County prosecutors failed to prove he was working under the direction of either the Belknap County Jail or the New Hampshire State Prison for Women when he had sex with an inmate during transport.

State prosecutors disagreed, saying the woman was incapable of consenting as an inmate. Furthermore, they argued, Blanchette had been grooming her for months with favors like giving her cigarettes and letting her use a phone.

The higher court sided with Blanchette in a ruling handed down in spring 2017.

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