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Domestic violence and assault laws vary from state to state.
In New Hampshire, where you are from, the crime of simple assault applies to one who causes bodily injury to or has "unprivileged physical contact" with another person. "Unprivileged physical contact" essentially means all physical contact not justified by law or consent. The offense is a misdemeanor unless the act was committed in a fight entered into by mutual consent, in which case it is only a violation. The misdemeanor offense carries a maximum jail sentence of 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2,000. A violation is not punished by jail time but can result in a fine of up to $1,200.
To obtain a conviction, the state will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you either (1) Purposely or knowingly caused bodily injury or unprivileged physical contact to another person; (2) Recklessly caused bodily injury to another person or (3) Negligently caused bodily injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon. "Purposely", "knowingly" and "recklessly" refer to state of mind and are legally defined terms. The crime can be proved by circumstantial rather than direct evidence, such as statements you may have made as recounted by a witness or the victim's injuries,
New Hampshire does not have a separate criminal domestic violence statute. It does have a domestic violence protection law. Thus, domestic violence is not an element of the simple assault crime. Rather, if included in the charge, it is a circumstance the court can find. Criminal complaint forms may include a "domestic violence-related" box which can be checked to alert the court. If the assault is by a family or household member, or by a current or former sexual or intimate partner, and the conduct is found to be a credible present threat to the person's safety, it is considered to be abuse under the domestic violence statute.
There are serious collateral consequences to a conviction found to involve domestic violence. Under federal law, you can lose your right to possess a firearm. It can affect your employment. If you are not a citizen, it can have immigration consequences. You may be entered in a national database of domestic violence offenders. A no contact order can be entered, which if violated, can result in jail time. You can be ordered to undergo counseling or a batterer's program.
You should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney in New Hampshire who can review the language of the charge and the police reports with you, listen to your version of events and advise you as to possible defenses. He or she can also advise you as to possible plea resolutions that would avoid a conviction and permanent record.
Jeralyn Merritt, Ask a Lawyer Panelist since 1998
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