A criminal case begins with an arrest. An arrest must be based on probable cause. This means that the arresting office must have sufficient facts to believe that the defendant has committed a crime. Crimes in NH are categorized at different levels of seriousness:
- Violations – Non-criminal offenses such as a traffic tickets. These offenses can carry a fine up to $1000.00.
- Class B Misdemeanors – Criminal offenses that can carry a fine of $1200.00, but do not carry any jail time.
- Class A Misdemeanors – Criminal offenses that carry fines of up to $2000.00 and up to 1 year in the House of Correction.
- Class B Felony – Criminal offenses that can carry up to a $4000.00 fine and 3 ½ to 7 years in the New Hampshire State Prison.
- Class A Felony – Criminal offenses that can carry large fines and 7 ½ to 15 years in the New Hampshire State Prison.
The Criminal Trial Process
- Bail — After an arrest, a defendant will usually be entitled to bail.
- Arraignment (violation and misdemeanor cases) — In violation and misdemeanor cases, a defendant’s first court appearance will be the arraignment. At an arraignment a defendant is formally charged and must enter a plea.
- Probable Cause Hearing and Indictments (felony cases) — In felony cases, the district court will schedule an arraignment to set bail and a probable cause hearing. Once the court determines that probable cause existed at the time of the arrest, the case will be bound over to the Superior Court for possible indictment and to be scheduled for a jury trial.
- Discovery — After arraignment, the defendant is entitled to receive all the police reports, photographs, witness statements, or any other evidence the State intends to use to prove that the defendant broke the law. This is called the discovery process.
- Trial — Trials in New Hampshire can take place in the District Court for violations and misdemeanors, in front of a single judge. Felony cases are always heard in Superior Court where the defendant then has the right to pick either a single judge trial, or a jury trial.The defendant may appeal guilty decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court within 30 days. The Supreme Court can overturn a conviction if an error of law was made during the trial.