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NH's high court to decide on victim ID disclosure rule

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 11. 2018 9:26PM

CONCORD — The question of whether crime victims should have their identities hidden in Supreme Court cases is headed to the state’s highest court, with a recommendation against such a policy by an advisory committee.

The proposed rule states “no party shall disclose a crime victim’s name, address, place of employment or other personal information” in filings with the Supreme Court unless filed under seal or authorized by the court for good cause. It was drafted by a Department of Justice attorney in his role on the committee, but the department took no formal stance on the proposal.

The five justices asked the court’s Advisory Committee on Rules to consider the question a year ago, in June 2017. The 16-member committee, chaired by Chief Justice Robert Lynn, voted 8-6 on Friday against the proposal.

Current practice allows for victims to be identified in public court documents at all levels of the judicial system. The change under consideration would only affect identification in appeals to the Supreme Court, where most documents are available online. It would not change victim identification practices in the lower courts.

The New Hampshire Press Association and the New Hampshire Union Leader were among the parties opposed to the Supreme Court rule change.

“The proposed rule seeks to deny access to information that the citizenry has a right to know,” wrote attorney Gregory Sullivan on behalf of the Union Leader in a May 22 letter to Lynn. “There are of course instances when anonymity is warranted. Those cases should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis as they are now.”

The N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence submitted testimony in support of protecting victim identities.

“We’re deeply disappointed with the committee’s rejection of a proposal to provide basic privacy rights to victims of crime,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the NHCADSV, in a statement after the advisory committee vote.

“Unfortunately, all too often victims are faced with choosing between seeking justice and maintaining basic privacy rights in the wake of a crime,” she said. “Sadly, the committee did not see the value in adopting a modest measure that would have gone a long way in addressing the concerns of crime victims.”

The committee vote is just the start of a process that may or may not result in a final rule change. Its report to the full court is due on Aug. 1, and will include majority and minority reports, according to court communications manager Carole Alfano.

The court could also request a briefing on the proposed rule change before issuing a final order.

If the court votes to accept the change, it will issue a “rules order” that will take effect on either Jan. 1 or July 1, as rules changes are implemented only twice a year.

In its 2017 memo asking the Advisory Committee to study the issue, the court observed that “a number of other appellate courts have adopted a rule or policy requiring that briefs or other documents identify crime victims by initials or with general descriptive terms.”

In some states, the rules are limited to particular types of cases, such as sexual assault.

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