Bill proposes removing bail commissioners

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

CONCORD, N.H. – Personal recognizance bail has been a hot topic recently in Manchester, but would removing bail commissioners from the process necessarily make it better? One piece of legislation currently before the New Hampshire House of Representatives believes it would.

Introduced by Bob Lynn (R-Windham) and Joe Alexander (R-Goffstown), 318-FN would eliminate New Hampshire’s bail commissioners and create several new circuit court judges to deal with the workload formerly dealt with by the bail commissioners.

A provision in the bill also would require any bail hearings to occur within 24 hours.

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

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

Members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee expressed concern over logistical challenges. Ray Newman (D-Nashua) asked if there would be enough judges available for those hearings on Friday nights and weekends to meet the 24-hour requirement. Karen Reid (R-Deering) asked if judges would be able to travel for certain bail hearings as bail commissioners do at times.

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

Jason Janvrin (R-Seabrook) also questioned Lynn’s premise that bail commissioners are somehow inferior to judges regarding bail matters, noting that bail commissioners must also be justices of the peace, which are appointed by either the New Hampshire Governor and Executive Council or district courts across the state.

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

Davis said that this bill would affect people who are not a flight risk and might lose jobs or housing if held on bail. She added that individuals with mental health issues arrested may not have access to needed medication if denied bail in certain circumstances.

Scherr referenced a study in Manchester of bail cases where there were only four individuals considered “dangerous” out of 508 arrested people in total, with 35 percent of all of those cases dismissed and 75 percent relating to drugs.

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

Richard Head, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Judicial Branch, did not have stance on the bill, but added that additional clerks would be needed to deal with several thousand more cases that would now come before judges. Potential court expansion would be needed in Rochester in response to a question from Lauren Selig (D-Durham), although it was not clear if this expansion might be needed in any case.

A recommendation on the bill is expected by the committee on Friday, Feb. 2.

About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.