New Hampshire Criminal Law Basics: Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions about New Hampshire Criminal Law: 1.What is an "arraignment"? 2.The officer never read me my Miranda rights. Shouldn't the case be dismissed? 3.What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony? 4.What is a probable cause hearing? 5.Can I get a transcript of what happened at the Grand Jury? 6.If I go to jail, can I get released early with Good Time? 7.Can my criminal record be used against me in court? 8.Anything I did before I turned 18 is erased from my record, right? 9.Do I need a lawyer? 1. What is an "arraignment"? An arraignment is an initial court appearance, where a criminal defendant is informed of the charge or charges against him or her. The judge will also set bail (or review the bail set by a bail commissioner at the time of arrest) and advise you if there are any conditions to your release. Standard conditions of bail may include not possessing firearms, not consuming alcohol or drugs, and not committing any new crimes. You should retain a lawyer prior to your arraignment if at all possible. If you cannot afford to hire your own lawyer, you may apply for a court-appointed lawyer, but only in cases where the possible punishment includes jail. 2. The officer never read me my Miranda rights. Shouldn't the case be dismissed? Every legal right has a corresponding legal remedy. What does that mean? It means that dismissing a case is not the ordinary remedy for a violation of your Miranda rights. For Miranda to apply, two things must occur. First you must be "in custody." Second, the police must be interrogating or questioning you. Standard questions, such as your name and date of birth are typically not considered police interrogation. When the police fail to advise you of your Miranda rights, and then proceed to ask you questions designed to elicit incriminating responses, your statements cannot be introduced as evidence against you at a trial. However, before the statements will be excluded, your lawyer must file a motion (a written request) with the court to suppress (or keep out) your statements. 3. What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony? In New Hampshire, there are class A and class B misdemeanors. A class B misdemeanor is punishable by a fine, but not by jail. A class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in the county jail, plus a fine of up to $2000. There are different types of felonies, but all are punishable by incarceration of more than one year. A class B felony is punishable by up to 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison. A class A felony is punishable by up to 7 1/2 to 15 years in prison. The major difference between a class A misdemeanor and any felony offense is the length of possible jail time, and where it is served. A sentence of one year or less is served at the local county jail. A sentence of one year or more is served at the New Hampshire State Prison. 4. What is a probable cause hearing? A probable cause hearing is a preliminary hearing in a district court. If you have been charged with a felony offense, but have not yet been indicted by a grand jury, you are entitled to a probable cause hearing. A district court judge cannot find you guilty or not guilty of a felony, but can dismiss the case if the judge finds that there is insufficient evidence linking you to the crime charged. At a probable cause hearing, hearsay (out of court statements by a person other than the witness who is testifying) is admissible, the rules of evidence do not apply, and proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not required. If you are charged with a felony, it is important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. In some cases, the prosecutor may consider reducing the charge. If charge remains a felony, there are a number of strategic decisions to discuss with your attorney before the probable cause hearing. 5. Can I get a transcript of what happened at the Grand Jury? In New Hampshire, grand jury proceedings are closed, secret proceedings. With few exceptions, grand jury proceedings are not recorded, and there is no transcript of what takes place. If you believe that you are the target of a grand jury investigation, you should speak with a lawyer immediately. 6. If I go to jail, can I get released early with Good Time? Whether you are eligible for time off of your sentence for good behavior depends upon what type of sentence you receive. If you are sentenced to serve a sentence at the county house of corrections, you may be eligible for release after serving 2/3 of your sentence. Thus, a person ordered to serve 12 months in the county jail, may be eligible for release after serving 8 months of the sentence. However, if you are sentenced to serve a state prison sentence, there is no early release for good behavior. A state prison sentence has both a minimum and maximum term. The minimum date is the earliest date at which an inmate is eligible for parole. The maximum date is the longest possible time an inmate may be incarcerated. Thus, a person sentenced to serve 3 1/2 - 7 years in prison is not eligible for parole until he or she serves at least 3 1/2 years, and can remain incarcerated for up to 7 years. 7. Can my criminal record be used against me in court? A judge may consider your criminal record when setting bail. However, your past criminal record may not be used to prove that you are guilty of the crime now being charged. There are some exceptions to this, such as when you are charged with a second or subsequent offense of the same kind. For example, to be convicted of a second offense DWI, the State must prove that you were convicted of the first offense. More importantly, if you are convicted, the judge may consider your criminal history in determining what sentence is appropriate in your case. 8. Anything I did before I turned 18 is erased from my record, right? No. It is a common misconception that a person's juvenile record is "erased" when they turn 18. First, in New Hampshire, a person who is 17 will be prosecuted as an adult. Second, juvenile records (court proceedings for persons under 17 years of age) are sealed to the public only. Juvenile records are still accessible by police and prosecutors. 9. Do I need a lawyer? If you are a suspect in a criminal investigation or are charged with a felony, misdemeanor, or serious motor vehicle offense, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as early as possible. What could be more important than protecting your freedom? Additionally, there may be serious and long-term implications to a criminal or motor vehicle conviction. Certain convictions will affect your employment, professional licensing, or ability to drive. An experienced defense lawyer will help you limit your risks and defend your rights. Nobody wants to miss an opportunity to be acquitted, to have a charge dismissed or to have evidence suppressed, or, if a penalty is unavoidable, minimize the impact to oneself or one's family. You should hire an experienced defense lawyer, who will carefully review the evidence and law in your case, and make sure your rights are protected.