Local police departments adapt to Felonies First court procedure

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, October 26, 2017 9:58AM

Antrim Police Chief said officers are spending more time traveling and sitting in Hillsborough Superior Court North in Manchester since the implementation of statewide court procedure went into effect at the beginning of the month.

The Felonies First procedure was implemented in all 10 counties on Oct. 1. The change pushes felonies and any directly related misdemeanors and violations to superior court, whereas before the lesser charge would be sent to district and the more severe charge would be sent to superior.

The new procedure is aimed at streamlining the process for defendants, but initial reactions from local officers say it’s more difficult for them. 

“We have already seen an increase in officers going down (to Manchester),” said Antrim Police Chief Scott Lester during a regular select board meeting on Monday night.

Lester said before Felonies First went into effect, local officers were more often called into 6th Circuit – District Division – Hillsborough court, which is a five-to-10-minute drive from Antrim. With the new procedure in place, officers are being called to Manchester more frequently.

That means more travel time for officers.

“We have to send them down there (Manchester) and they have to sit and wait to be called and if they are called, they testify, but if they’re not called, they have to come back the next day,” Lester said. “So I’m paying a guy to just sit there and wait until they are subpoenaed and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Bennington Police Chief Bret Sullivan said it’s been about a month since the new system was implemented. He said in smaller towns the new system has been difficult.

“I either have to fill the shift with another officer or have Antrim or another town cover,” Sullivan said of sending someone to Manchester.

He said it’s still too soon to know how much money that will cost the department over time.

“It’s more shifts, so eventually it means more money,” Sullivan said.

The goal of Felonies First is to eliminate unnecessary delay and create better outcomes for victims and defendants, according to a state document. It says quicker case resolution brings finality to victims earlier in the process.

A call to the court system to answer questions regarding the matter was not returned by deadline on Wednesday.

The New Hampshire Judicial Council, which is tasked with evaluating the effectiveness of the program, published a report on Oct. 16 that concluded it’s still too early to gauge if it has been successful or not.

Even though some counties have been under the new system for months, the documents say that key stakeholders are not uniformly maintaining the data necessary for a thorough evaluation of the program. It says the data that is available is complicated by the burgeoning drug crisis across the state, which has spiked felony-level arrests.

Lester said the superior court is “completely overwhelmed” by cases since the shift. He said they are going to be trying to get through more cases quicker and not actually go to trial because they can’t handle the volume.

“There are going to be a lot of pre-trial conferences and trying to resolve cases prior to going to trial,” Lester said during Monday’s meeting.

He said everyone is trying to adjust to the new system.

“It’s going to be a trial period,” Lester said. “We’ll see how it goes.”