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Sentencing in NH/Appeal Process

The State of New Hampshire has what is known a "truth in sentencing." This means that when a defendant is sentenced to a term in the State Prison, he must serve the minimum of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

There is no "time off for good behavior." Instead, 150 days of "bad time" are added to each year of an inmate's minimum sentence, and the good time earned is used to erase those days. If an inmate does not get into trouble, he will be eligible for parole after serving his minimum sentence. Otherwise, the parole date is delayed according to how many disciplinary problems there have been.

For example, an inmate sentenced to 10 to 20 years, begins with a minimum sentence of 10 years plus 1500 days (10 years X 150 days). Good time is subtracted from the 1500 days and after 10 years an inmate becomes eligible for parole.

The only way a defendant can change the minimum sentence he must serve is:

  1. By successfully appealing the case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
  2. By applying for a Sentence Review Hearing
  3. By petitioning for a Sentence Reduction Hearing.

The defendant is usually unsuccessful in the vast majority of homicide cases and serves the full minimum sentence imposed by the original sentencing judge.

The Appeal Process

After a defendant is convicted of a crime, he has thirty days in which to file a "Notice of Appeal" to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. A defendant gives up his right to appeal when he pleads guilty instead of going to trial.

A "Notice of Appeal" outlines the legal issues to be appealed. Once a "notice of appeal" is filed, the Supreme Court makes a determination whether or not to accept the case. Appeals are filed in the majority of violent crime cases and they are usually accepted by the court. It may take up to three months before the case is officially accepted.

After the Supreme Court accepts the case, the following "steps occur":

  1. The Supreme Court will order transcripts of the trial to be prepared for their review.
  2. The Appellate Counsel for the defendant will submit a "brief" on the legal issues being appealed.
  3. The State, represented by the Department of Justice, responds to the appellate issues in their own written brief.
  4. A public hearing is scheduled before the five Justices of the Supreme Court at the Supreme Court House on Noble Drive in Concord. Each side is given 15 minutes to present an oral argument outlining their positions.

After the hearing, it may take six months or longer for the court to render its written decision on the appeal. If the Supreme Court "affirms" the conviction, the defendant's sentence is upheld and it remains the same. If the Court "overturns" the verdict, the conviction is set aside and a new trial must be held in order to reconvict the defendant.

Sentence Review

At the sentencing hearing the defendant is informed orally and in writing of his right, according to RSA 651:58, to apply for a "sentence review." This is when the defendant "contests" the sentence imposed by the Superior Court. The defendant has 30 days in which to file his application.

If a request for a "sentence review" is made, a hearing is scheduled before the Sentence Review Division at the New Hampshire State Prison. The Division is a Board of three Superior Court Justices appointed by the Chief Justice to review such application. At the hearing the Board may do any of the following:

  1. They may decide the sentence should remain the same.
  2. They may decrease the sentence imposed by the judge.
  3. They may increase the sentence imposed by the judge.

It is rare for the Board to change the original sentence imposed by the sentencing judge.

If a hearing is scheduled you will be notified by an advocate who will accompany you to the hearing if you choose to attend. A prosecutor will represent the State at the hearing. Only the prosecutor, defense attorney and defendant are allowed to address the Board. The Board will then review the facts and make their decision you will be notified as soon as the decision is made.

Sentence Reductions

According to RSA 651:20, any defendant sentenced to the State Prison has the right to petition the court to have his sentence reduced. If the crime occurred before January 1, 1993 they may petition the court every two years: if the crime occurred between January 1, 1993 and July 22, 1994 they must serve 2/3 of their minimum sentence before filing a petition. If the court accepts the petition, a hearing is scheduled before the original sentencing judge.

The hearings are public and you are welcome to attend. A prosecutor will represent the State in opposition to any reduction in the sentence. An advocate will notify you of the scheduled hearing and will accompany you if you choose to attend. If you wish to address the court, the prosecutor will request that your input be heard. An advocate can assist you with any written or oral statement you wish to make.

New Hampshire Department of Justice | 33 Capitol Street | Concord, NH | 03301
Telephone: 603-271-3658