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Domestic violence charges refiled in 'cultural incompetence' case

By MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 20. 2017 12:50AM

AUGUSTIN BAHATI 

MANCHESTER — City prosecutors on Wednesday filed to reinstate six domestic-related criminal charges against Augustin Bahati, the Congolese refugee whose case was dismissed last March because he was deemed culturally incompetent to understand the American justice system.

Acting City Solicitor Emily Gray Rice said her office filed paperwork in Manchester District Court on Wednesday. Rice said she did not want to presuppose what will happen when it comes to the questionable legal argument of cultural incompetence.

“I’m going to wait to see how he responds through his counsel, and we’ll take it from there,” Rice said.

Rice said she is collaborating with the office of Attorney General Gordon MacDonald.

The Bahati case was a key case highlighted by MacDonald when he released a stinging critique of domestic violence prosecutions in the Manchester office late last month. The critiques led to the abrupt retirement of the two top officials in the City Solicitor’s Office, which handles most misdemeanor prosecutions.

Bahati, who is 33, was arrested last August. According to court paperwork, he was accused of striking, pushing, grabbing, kicking and pulling out the hair of a woman who was 27 weeks pregnant.

He faced five charges of domestic assault and one of sexual assault, all misdemeanors. But on March 2, Circuit Court Judge William Lyons dismissed charges against Bahati. City prosecutor Andrea Muller and Bahati’s attorney agreed with an expert that deemed he was incompetent to stand trial, could not be restored to competency and was not dangerous.

Last month, MacDonald’s office disclosed that a forensic examiner determined Bahati “had ‘cultural incompetence’ with regard to the United States system of justice and was consequently not restorable.”

At that time, MacDonald’s office said that no such provision for cultural incompetence exists in New Hampshire law.

The refugee agency that resettled Bahati has said he took classes on the American justice system, which included lessons about domestic abuse.

Last August, Bahati was arrested, booked, fingerprinted and photographed. He was initially jailed but eventually released on bail. Rice said he won’t be re-arrested. She expects a judge will issue a notice and arraignment date, and he will have to appear in court.

Rice would not answer any questions about Bahati or his victim, fearing it could damage the case. Rice has not determined who will prosecute the case, she said, but added it’s reasonable to expect that Muller will handle the case.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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