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Push continues to codify domestic violence in NH law

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 15. 2014 11:37PM

CONCORD — The mother of a 9-year-old boy shot and killed by his father was in front of lawmakers again on Tuesday, urging support for legislation that would establish domestic violence as a crime in New Hampshire.

Becky Ranes of Amherst, mother of Joshua Savyon, first testified before a Senate committee in January. In February she watched from the gallery as “Joshua’s Law” cleared the upper chamber in a 24-0 vote, and was comforted in the hallway by Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Joshua Savyon was killed by his father, Muni Savyon, during a court-ordered supervised visit last August at a Manchester YWCA visitation center. Muni Savyon, who turned the gun on himself, was under a domestic violence protective order because he had threatened to kill both Joshua and Ranes.

“This is a picture of my only child, my son Joshua,” she said, holding up a photograph of the young boy before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Joshua would have turned 10 five days ago, on April 10, she said.

“I’m here because I am a survivor of domestic violence, but the real reason I am here is that my son, Joshua, is not,” she said. “Today I speak for Joshua and all the other children in New Hampshire who don’t have a voice.”

Ranes was the last in a long line of speakers, all in support of the legislation, including representatives of the Justice Department, law enforcement, county attorneys, social service agencies and victim advocates.

Also testifying on Tuesday was John Cantin of Manchester, whose daughter, Melissa “Missy” Cantin Charbonneau, was shot to death in 2009 by her husband in a murder-suicide at their home on Jewett Street.

Under current law, someone who assaults or threatens a domestic partner or family member is usually charged under one of 17 state statutes that include such crimes as simple assault, criminal threatening, kidnapping or stalking.

SB 318, if signed into law, would enable law enforcement and prosecutors to charge a suspect with “domestic violence,” in such cases, which would be treated differently than someone assaulted by a stranger in bar fight.

“If our state had a specific crime of domestic violence, Joshua’s father would have been charged with that crime instead of criminal threatening,” said Ranes. “As a result, police prosecutors, and the courts would immediately have had better information about the type of crime that was committed.”

Supporters of SB 318 argue that the separate classification of domestic violence as a crime of its own will enhance the safety of potential victims while helping the state better understand the scope of the problem.

“It’s important to be able to tell the difference between two strangers who get into a fight at a baseball game, and an abuser who threatens to kill his child or ex-partner,” Ranes testified. “We know it is common for domestic violence crimes to escalate, and we must treat these crimes differently than others.”

Rep. Kyle Tasker, R-Nottingham, pressed several witnesses on whether the law change would result in more confiscation of firearms.

“A domestic violence charge requires all firearms in the home to be confiscated,” he said. “Is that going to happen more often because of this new bill?” he asked Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice, who testified in favor of the bill.

Rice said the change would improve the accuracy by which the state records domestic violence cases, and thereby improve the likelihood that such cases would be properly adjudicated and reported to federal authorities. New Hampshire is one of only 15 states with no separate classification of domestic violence as a crime.

Since the state now has no way to establish a domestic violence charge through a judicial process, law enforcement officials often identify an assault or other crime as “domestic violence” on the basis of circumstances, even though the ultimate conviction may be for assault.

“There are many on the federal registry now who shouldn’t be there because they were never convicted of a qualified domestic violence crime,” said Rice. “This will ensure there are fewer names going into the federal registry.”

“Could this prevent future such events?” asked Rep. Geoffrey Hirsch, D-Bradford.

“Absolutely,” said Rice.

That was the message that Ranes wanted to leave with lawmakers.

“My hope is that if what happened to my family makes people take a closer look at how we handle these situations, then something good will come out of this,” she said, “and Joshua will live on in spirit by helping others who are suffering this silent crime.”

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