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Suspects arrested near street scuffle may raise criminal defense

The job of the police is not easy when it comes to trying to control street scuffles and outbursts between young people who may or may not be associated with gang elements. It is also true that under the confusion and lightning-fast pace of events, that there is ample opportunity for the police to identify the wrong culprits or to arrest innocent bystanders. That is one reason why criminal defense counsel are critical forces in keeping a fair balance between enforcement and individual rights under New Hampshire and federal law.

Recently, police in Manchester were called to a public fight near Maple and Spruce Streets. A gunshot was reported by a woman who said she saw, while looking out her window at 3:20 a.m., a man shoot a gun in the air.  Apparently, police were able to question some witnesses still on the scene when they arrived.

An 18-year-old female told police that she fought with a 24-year-old woman who hit her with brass knuckles. The older female's boyfriend allegedly shot a gun into the air to end the fight. It may have made sense at the time, but a defense of frontier justice will not likely carry much weight in court.

The younger woman was treated at the hospital for non-life-threatening bruises to the face. The older woman and her boyfriend came willingly to the police station where they were arrested for assault and reckless conduct respectively.  Another woman was arrested while she fled the area of the scuffle. She allegedly resisted arrest and assaulted an officer who tried to question her. There was at least one other person arrested near the scene for drug possession.

The scenario shows the difficulty of determining culpability in such circumstances, where the facts are fuzzy and filled with side players who are in effect observers only. Criminal defense attorneys in New Hampshire will thus likely be particularly concerned about the rights of the accused individuals who were trying to exit the area and were pulled into the web by police interrogations. These may have exceeded constitutional boundaries, depending on the ultimate facts to be learned as the cases move forward.

Source: unionleader.com, "Police: Four arrested after gun fired in Manchester", The Merrimack, May 26, 2016

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