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New Hampshire criminal defense teams may benefit from new program

The judicial system is often criticized for being slow and backlogged. Those anticipating a speedy trial may be frustrated at waiting for evidence reports that often are not passed to a defendant's attorney until after a district court hearing. Recently, a county in New Hampshire has developed a new program to increase efficiency in many criminal defense cases.

The Strafford County court system has recently instituted a pilot program aimed at streamlining the criminal justice process. The Felonies First program bypasses probable cause hearings and sends cases directly to superior court. Probable cause hearings are waived by defense attorneys 88 percent of the time because prosecutors often hold police reports until after those hearings. Having the police reports sooner allows an attorney more time to examine evidence and prepare a solid defense.

The new program also places shorter deadlines on prosecutors for turning over evidence to the defense. Under the previous system, no deadlines existed; however, the new program requires police reports to be handed over within 10 days of a person's arrest and 20 days if the person is released on bail. Prosecutors also have only 60 days to present a case to the grand jury, whereas the old system allowed them up to 90 days.

On average, a felony case in New Hampshire may take nearly 240 days to complete. State superior court justices expect that to drop to 180 days under the new program. Streamlining the court system may be important as the number of felony cases seems to grow each year, particularly with the recent increase in drug crimes. More efficient processing of those cases will allow criminal defense teams to seek justice for their clients more quickly.

Source: seacoastonline.com, "Chief justice: Felonies First makes courts more efficient", Liz Markhlevskaya, Sept. 25, 2016

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