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ACLU calls for revisions of 'Laurie List' rules

By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 10. 2018 8:14PM
Gov. Chris Sununu addresses a gathering of reporters and law enforcement officials during a news conference on May 1 at Londonderry police headquarters, announcing changes to the so-called “Laurie List”. Behind Sununu are, left to right, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, Londonderry Police Chief William Hart, and Londonderry Police Lt. Patrick Cheetham, president of the New Hampshire Police Association. (Paul Feely/Union Leader File)



CONCORD — The New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is calling for revisions to the rules governing how police officers are placed on a list identifying individuals with potential credibility problems — commonly referred to as the ‘Laurie List’ — saying new standards favor police.

Back in May, Gov. Chris Sununu and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald announced new guidance involving Laurie List standards, addressing how police officers are placed on the list and conditions under which a name may be removed.

The so-called ‘Laurie List’ stems from the 1995 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision in State vs. Carl Laurie, which overturned Laurie’s murder conviction after prosecutors withheld information that a key police witness was disciplined for dishonesty. Since 2004, police chiefs across New Hampshire have been required to keep lists of police officers who have been disciplined for disclosure to defense attorneys.

MacDonald said earlier this year the New Hampshire Supreme Court found in two cases that law enforcement officers are entitled to due process as to both placement on and removal from the list.

“In an opinion authored by now Chief Justice (Robert J.) Lynn,” MacDonald said, “the Court observed that because inclusion on the ‘Laurie List’ carries a stigma, police officers have a weighty countervailing interest in ensuring that their names are not placed on the list when there are no proper grounds for doing so.”

New England Police Benevolent Association New Hampshire State Director Stephen J. Arnold in May called the changes a “long overdue correction” to the “sometimes harmful” list.

“Your New Hampshire police officers demand integrity, honesty and loyalty from one another,” said Arnold. “We do not want bad apples spoiling our profession, but the process to weed out the bad and protect the good has been a blurred and controversial endeavor — up to now.”

But in an opinion piece published in the New Hampshire Bar News authored by Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the ACLU of New Hampshire, and defense attorney Robin Melone, the pair refer to the changes as a “police-centered approach.”

“Proponents declared that these changes, memorialized in a memo from Attorney General MacDonald, were needed because the police deserve the same robust due process protections as any criminal defendant would have in court,” the pair write in their opinion piece. “This view is incorrect. The police are not entitled to rights equal to those held by defendants. This is because, in a criminal case, the government is attempting to deprive the defendant, not the police, of his or her liberty,”

Under the expanded guidelines, police chiefs must report to county attorneys any officers found to “lack credibility,” use excessive force, fail to comply with legal procedures, or exhibit mental illness or instability.

“Only allegations of misconduct which are sustained after an investigation will result in an officer’s name being placed on the (list),” said MacDonald. “An allegation which is not sustained or has been deemed unfounded will not cause an officer’s name to be placed on the list.”

According to the new guidance, “mere investigation” into an officer’s conduct does not warrant inclusion on the list.

“Accordingly, law enforcement agency heads should not cause an officer’s name to be ‘temporarily’ placed on the list” while an investigation into the allegations is pending, reads the guidance. “Officers who are under investigation must notify the prosecutor in any case in which they may be a witness that they are under investigation.”

“This approach essentially asks defendants to trust that the officer being investigated for a credibility issue will make the required disclosure to the prosecutor,” write Bissonnette and Melone. “This ‘trust the police’ approach is not how our criminal justice system works, and puts criminal defendants’ due process rights in jeopardy.”

Bissonnette and Melone end the piece by calling on the Attorney General’s office to revise the new guidance.


Crime, law and justice Public Safety State Government


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