Gov. Sununu to convene panel to address bail reform shortcomings

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Gov. Chris Sununu ... looking to fix bail reform flaws (Courtesy photo)

CONCORD - Gov. Chris Sununu today announced he was convening a bipartisan group of legislators to find solutions "to not only fix bail reform in New Hampshire, but to overhaul the system."

"When bail reform became law last year, I pledged that we would closely monitor its implementation," the governor said in a statement. "It is clear that there have been some unintended consequences, and I remain committed to overhauling the system in an expedited manner."

Bail reform legislation, written by Albert "Buzz" Scheer, a UNH professor of law, was designed to take cash out of the equation when it came to bail, allowing in most cases zero dollars personal recognizance bail. The only exception is if the suspect is deemed a danger to themselves or others, which hamstrung judges, who deferred to the strict letter of the law.

The second bail reform bill signed in April was said to have closed loopholes and also called for a group of stakeholders to convey any concerns in November of next year. Clearly, the governor decided that those concerns - many of which have been addressed in The Rochester Voice's recent "Spotlight on Bail Reform" series - had to be addressed sooner rather than later.

That series looked at a long list of crime suspects being let out on jail on personal recognizance bail only to skip court hearing while committing additional alleged crimes only to be let out on PR bail again and again.

There are multiple such offenders guilty of a half dozen or more crimes in an entire year without having their cases ever go to a plea deal or trial.

The governor said today he looked forward to meeting with those who like bail reform and those who don't with an eye to compromise once they meet in the next few weeks.

"I agree with the many stakeholders that have called for reform, and look forward to continuing to work with them to develop a new approach," he said. "We can find a solution that ensures public safety while not needlessly incarcerating someone simply because they cannot afford bail."

To date, the Governor's Office has met with superintendents of jails, lawmakers, police chiefs, city government, non-profit leaders, members of the judicial branch, the ACLU and advocates to discuss further overhauls of the bail reform system.

Rochester Police Capt. Todd Pinkham, who has detailed in press releases the steady drumbeat of suspects out on PR bail, failing to appear for court hearings and reoffending, said he's happy the governor is taking notice of bail reform's shortcomings.

"That's good that they're going to take a look at it and look at the unintended consequences of putting these criminal back on the street," Pinkham said today.

Court judges are still allowed to hold without bail suspects believed to be a danger to themselves or the public, but Pinkham and Rochester Police Chief Paul Toussaint have both argued then what about personal property.

"Reoffenders who are committing thefts against property are not necessarily a physical threat, but stealing other people's stuff over and over is a problem," Pinkham said. "And it can be a danger to them, too. One burglary suspect got shot at, and one was held at gunpoint (by the home's owner) over the summer."

"I'm glad to see their taking this seriously and trying to fix these issues," Pinkham added.

Strafford County Attorney Tom Velardi, who has also railed against the unintended consequences of bail reform, was not immediately available.

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