Criminal Charges and Alternative Resolutions
Criminal law is a very complex area of the law. Knowing the ins and outs, the statutes, and case law is important to getting good results. It is also important to know the players involved—the courts, the prosecutors, and the police officers. But perhaps just as important is understanding all of the programming, alternatives, and non-traditional ways of resolving criminal cases in New Hampshire. Often, for clients, a lawyer’s knowledge of this area of law has the biggest impact on the outcome of the case. Furthermore, unlike a lot of traditional areas of legal knowledge, there are precious few resources that help non-lawyers navigate all of the sentence-related options in criminal cases in New Hampshire. In the end, it is all about experience with the process.
As the burden of the criminal docket weighs heavily on courts across the country, these courts, including those here in New Hampshire, are seeking expedient and effective alternatives to simply trying cases. There are, in many instances, just too many cases to try and as the Opioid Epidemic continues, the number of cases only grows. In New Hampshire, the courts have created a number of alternative paths. Here are a few:
New Hampshire, like many states in the United States, has recognized the need for different ways of resolving drug cases. Because these cases involve both a criminal component and a disease/mental health component, it is challenging for traditional methods to address the heart of the problem. Drug courts are one solution. In New Hampshire, these are a collaborative effort between the courts and the other stakeholders in the criminal justice system like the prosecutors, police, and defense lawyers. By providing both the carrot of treatment and the stick of court sanctions, Drug Courts (court information found here) can help the community and individuals facing drug charges. And while some drug cases can be resolved without jail or prison time up front by agreeing to participate in drug court, it is a long and challenging process and one that should not be engaged without consultation with a lawyer. Entered into incorrectly and the Drug Court might be the same jail or prison time plus a long time spent on intensive probation. But for those most in need, Drug Court can be an opportunity to turn one’s life around.
In civil cases mediation is used on a regular basis, both because of its effectiveness and because of the long delays in getting to trial. But in criminal cases, until recently, there were few ways to resolve a case short of a plea or a trial. New Hampshire now has a third way—settlement conferences (guide published by court found here). These are essentially mediations in criminal cases. The process is informal, but intensive. It can resolve a case or help frame issues for the parties. In many instances, a settlement conference does, in fact, resolve the case with a plea all agree upon and it does so with less risk and less wasted time than a trial.
For minor charges and first time offenses, many police departments and prosecutor’s offices allow an individual, usually juveniles, to engage in Diversion, a combination of treatment, classwork, and, in some cases, community service. In the best case scenario, completion of Diversion not only results in the criminal charge been dropped, but it also gets the individual help they need before a problem gets more out of hand.
Rolled out on a county-by-county basis, the Felonies First program will require all felonies to be brought in Superior Court. As it stands now they start out in District Court and then, usually, get resolved in Superior Court. In the future, to increase the speed with which cases are processed and parties receive a resolution, criminal cases will be started in the same court in which they are resolved. Paired with this program in same locations is Early Case Resolution. This allows a specially assigned prosecutor to “short circuit” the plodding pace of a criminal case and make an offer much earlier in the process than normal.
It used to be that criminal law was all about the trial. It was the place where lawyers tried dozens of cases a year. And while criminal lawyers still try a lot of cases, the range of alternative ways to resolve cases has expanded. Our criminal lawyer has experience in all these programs, except for Felonies First, which has yet to roll out statewide, and knows how these programs work and which clients they would best serve.
If you are charged with a crime and need advice, call us at (603) 318-0450 or email email@example.com