CONCORD, N.H. — A group tasked with evaluating New Hampshire’s new system to streamline felony criminal cases says key stakeholders are not compiling the data necessary for a thorough evaluation.
The Felonies First program took effect in all 10 counties on Oct. 1 after more than a year of staggered implementation. The New Hampshire Judicial Council is required to submit an annual review of the program to lawmakers, but the latest report concludes it’s too early to fully assess the program because of limited data, the Concord Monitor reported.
Attorneys and law enforcement officials told the newspaper they are still trying to navigate the new system, which involves superior courts handling more serious cases instead of having cases start in lower courts and then get forwarded after a probable cause hearing. Under the old system, defendants waived those hearings nearly 90 percent of the time, according to Tina Nadeau, chief justice of the superior court system.
The new system eliminates those hearings, which has prompted concerns about the 24-hour window attorneys have to prepare for arraignments after a felony arrest in which a defendant is held on bail. That means less time for law enforcement to gather evidence, less time for prosecutors to determine appropriate charges and less time for defense attorneys to meet with clients. Court clerks said as a result, arraignments often don’t start on time.
Officials also said evaluating the program is complicated by the increase in felony arrests, in large part due to the state’s opioid crisis. The number of drug arrests in the state increased by 73 percent between 2014 and 2015, just prior to the rollout of Felonies First, according to the report.
Information from: Concord Monitor, http://www.concordmonitor.com