LACONIA — A Superior Court judge’s ruling will allow the state to seek new indictments against a former Belknap County Deputy Sheriff who allegedly sexually assaulted prisoners entrusted to his care.
Deputy Belknap County Attorney Adam Woods said after arguments in Belknap County Superior Court last week that his office has not yet made the decision whether new charges would be brought against Ernest Justin Blanchette.
In a two-page ruling issued Friday, Judge James D. O’Neill III wrote that the charges against Blanchette were dismissed without prejudice, which means the county attorney could re-indict him.
During a Dec. 6 hearing, Woods asserted there were no extraordinary circumstances that would warrant the charges being dismissed with prejudice. Defense Attorney Brad Davis of Franklin, had initially requested the charges be thrown out with prejudice, but did not argue during a Dec. 6 hearing that the state had engaged in misconduct which would support such a ruling.
The indictments returned against Blanchette in February 2016 alleged that he engaged in conduct which “coerced or intimidated” a female inmate to have sex with another person while he watched and coerced an inmate into have sexual intercourse with him when he was transporting her from the Belknap County jail to a dentist appointment.
In his initial ruling dismissing the four aggravated felonious sexual assault charges, Judge O’Neill held that none of the indictments made any reference to Blanchette being an “employee” of or being “entrusted with the performance of an act” by a correctional institution.
On May 15, 2017, the N.H. Supreme Court overturned Blanchette’s conviction in Hillsborough County, but in its orderly largely left open the question of whether the employment requirement applied to Blanchette in his role as a deputy sheriff.
Judge O’Neill had held that inclusion of the phrase “where the actor is employed” was a necessary element of the offense and because the local charges did not include such language, the indictments were defective.