Victory in the NH Supreme Court for Domestic Violence SurvivorsPosted Jul 16, 2021
Domestic violence survivors received a significant legal victory earlier this week when the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld a domestic violence final order of protection for a client of New Hampshire Legal Assistance.
Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald, writing for a unanimous court, agreed with NHLA that:
“In sum, we conclude that RSA 173-B:1 does not require that the plaintiff be the direct target of the statutorily-enumerated predicate offenses but requires only that the defendant commit or attempt to commit one or more of those offenses and that the defendant’s conduct pose a credible, present threat to the plaintiff’s safety.”
NHLA attorney Mary Krueger conducted the oral argument. “Our client is very relieved that the protection order will remain in place,” she said after the court issued its opinion. “She was increasingly scared of the defendant’s excessive drinking with loaded firearms, and it was becoming worse over time. She is also glad to know that this decision will help other victims seeking needed protection.”
The client filed a domestic violence petition last September alleging that her husband engaged in three incidents that threatened her safety. The first incident, in October 2019, consisted of a text message threatening physical violence. The second incident occurred a month later when he prevented her from entering their house, using his body to slam the entry door, and injuring her. When the client was finally able to get inside, she saw her husband standing with a loaded gun in his hand. The third incident occurred in August 2020 when the client’s husband pointed a loaded gun at the client’s aunt, who was staying with them for the summer. When the client returned home and learned what had happened, she left with her aunt to call the police. The husband was drinking heavily and impaired during each of these incidents.
The New Hampshire Circuit Court granted the client’s request for a protection order. However, her husband exercised his legal right to an appeal. He argued that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that his conduct constituted a credible threat to the client because the most recent incident of abuse was directed towards the client’s aunt. He also disputed certain restraints that the circuit court issued including that he have no contact with the victim.
The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the circuit court’s decision. It agreed that the statute does not require the specified criminal conduct be directed at the plaintiff and that there was a credible present threat to the client’s safety. The husband’s excessive heavy drinking, while carrying loaded firearms, and engaging in threatening behavior demonstrated an ongoing pattern of behavior posing a risk to her physical safety.
“From what we understand about domestic violence, abusive conduct directed towards a victim’s loved ones, pets, cherished property, and the like is indicative of dangerous behavior,” said Krueger. “This decision affirms that the plain meaning of RSA 173-B provides for needed relief in these kinds of situations.”
We would like to thank everyone at NHLA who worked on behalf of our client to achieve this positive outcome. Many people contributed to this case’s success, including Lauren Greenwald who did the trial work; and Chelsie Rommel who co-wrote the brief along with Krueger, and did a terrific job as appellate co-counsel contributing to the thoroughness of the preparation.
NHLA is committed to providing civil legal services and resources for victims of domestic violence. If you or a loved one has been subjected to domestic violence, call New Hampshire’s 24-hour, statewide helpline at 1-866-644-3574 or go to the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence website to find a crisis center in your area.