New Hampshire

Bill proposes removing bail commissioners

Bob Lynn on January 26, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

CONCORD, NH – Personal acknowledgment bail has been a hot topic in Manchester recently, but would removing bail officers from the process necessarily make it better? A bill currently before the New Hampshire House of Representatives believes that would be the case.

Introduced by Bob Lynn (R-Windham) and Joe Alexander (R-Goffstown), 318-FN would eliminate the New Hampshire bail bondsmen and install several new district judges to handle the workload formerly handled by the bail bondsmen.

A provision in the bill would also require all bail hearings to take place within 24 hours.

Lynn, who served on the New Hampshire Supreme Court from 2010 to 2020, believed that the decision to grant or deny bail should be left to the judges.

“If you have the power to take someone’s liberty, you should be a judge,” Lynn said.

Members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives’ Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee have expressed concern over logistical challenges. Ray Newman (D-Nashua) asked if there were enough judges available for these Friday night and weekend hearings to meet the 24-hour requirement. Karen Reid (R-Deering) asked if judges could travel to certain bail hearings, as bail commissioners sometimes do.

Ray Newman (D-Nashua) on Jan. 26, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Jason Janvrin (R-Seabrook) also challenged Lynn’s premise that bail bondsmen were somehow inferior to judges on bail matters, noting that bail bondsmen also had to be justices of the peace, appointed either by the New Hampshire governor and executive council or by county courts across the board Through the state.

Several current and former bail bonds officers testified to the importance and dedication of bail bonds officers in New Hampshire. They were joined by two University of New Hampshire professors who have researched the topic: Melissa Davis and Buzz Scherr.

Davis said this bill would affect people who do not pose a risk of absconding and may lose their jobs or housing if held on bail. She added that in certain circumstances, arrested people with mental health problems may not have access to the medication they need if they are denied bail.

Scherr pointed to a study in Manchester of bail cases where out of a total of 508 people arrested, only four were deemed “dangerous,” with 35 percent of all those cases being dropped and 75 percent involving drugs.

“I encourage you not to be tempted by the false narrative that there is something wrong with our bail system,” he said. “It works.”

Richard Head, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Judicial Branch, did not comment on the bill, but added that additional clerks would be needed to handle the several thousand more cases that would now come before judges. In response to a question from Lauren Selig (D-Durham), a potential court expansion would be required in Rochester, although it was not clear if that expansion might be required in every case.

A recommendation on the bill is expected from the committee on Friday, February 2nd.

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