New Hampshire Courts
In New Hampshire, it is the responsibility of the judicial branch and the executive and legislative branches to enact laws and ensure order within state limits.
New Hampshire Courts consist of different levels of courts that attend to both criminal and civil cases. The highest court in New Hampshire is the Supreme Court. The state also has the Superior Courts, Circuit Courts - Probate Division, Family Division, and the District Division. The state also has federal appellate courts, which are a representative of the federal judiciary in the state. These federal courts are tasked with hearing federal cases that occur within the state.
The state Supreme Court comprises five justices, including one chief justice. It is the only court with appellate jurisdiction in New Hampshire. It takes on appeals from administrative agencies and trial courts, including juvenile cases and criminal and civil cases. The Supreme Court assists both the legislative and executive arms with advisory opinions at their requests. On issues relating to court management and policy, the chief justice and associate justices work alongside the trial court's administrative judges.
The Superior Courts, on the other hand, refer to a forum involving jury trials. Superior Courts have jurisdiction over a wide variety of cases, including domestic relations, civil, and criminal cases. In New Hampshire, the Superior Courts are 11, with one court in each county. However, Hillsborough County has two Superior Court locations.
The New Hampshire court system merged Circuit Courts' family, probate, and district courts into a streamlined system in July 2011. This was designed to improve services to the bar and the public. There are ten circuits in New Hampshire, with one court per county. Each Circuit Court location has one clerk and deputy clerk; these serve as the administrative office of each court, maintaining and disseminating New Hampshire court records in the state. However, some Circuit Courts do not have deputy clerks.
What is the New Hampshire Supreme Court?
The New Hampshire Supreme Court is the state’s last resort court, having its seat in the state capital, Concord. It is made up of five justices, including a chief justice and associate justices who are elected by the Governor, however, subject to the Executive Council’s approval. The Supreme Court accepts mandatory and discretionary appeals from lower courts and administrative agencies in line with the Supreme Court Rules for appeal procedures and processes. The court has the original jurisdiction to issue wits of prohibition, certiorari, habeas corpus, amongst other writs.
The Supreme court is responsible for interpreting case laws, statutes, and the state and federal constitutions, making corrections to errors made by the trial court and the court’s administration. The discipline of lawyers and judges is also the responsibility of the Supreme Court. The court has created a Judicial Conduct Committee to investigate judges’ ethical misconduct, an independent Attorney Discipline System that reviews complaints regarding lawyers’ ethical misconduct.
What are New Hampshire Superior Courts?
The New Hampshire Superior Court makes provision for jury trials in both criminal and civil cases. The court is made up of a Chief Justice and up to 28 associate justices. The chief justice is in charge of the court’s administration. Across the state, Superior Courts have 20 full-time judges. There are 11 Superior Court locations in New Hampshire, and each is named after the county where it is located, e.g., the Sullivan county has the “Sullivan Superior Court”.
The Superior Court has general jurisdiction statewide. It has exclusive jurisdiction over injunctive relief petitions where parties block action by seeking a court order, disputes on the title to real estate, appeals from planning and zoning board decisions, and petitions to enforce contracts.
This court also hears the following these types of cases:
- Appeals from the District Division of the Circuit Court on a misdemeanor
- Felonies - crimes such as theft, drugs, burglary, and aggravated sexual assault
- Contracts, real property rights, negligence, and other civil matters where either of the parties requested a trial by jury having a claim of not less than $1,500 in damages. Note that in cases where damage claims exceed $25,000, the Superior Court has exclusive jurisdiction.
- Matters regarding child custody, divorce, and even domestic violence. However, both the District Court and Superior Court have concurrent jurisdiction over matters concerning domestic violence.
Jurisdiction over child support/ custody, divorce, and domestic violence falls within the Family Division of the Circuit Courts’ jurisdiction in Sullivan, Rockingham, and Grafton Counties.
What are New Hampshire Circuit Courts?
The New Hampshire Circuit Court, also known as “community court,” began operation on the 1st of July, 2011, merging the District Court, Family Court, and the Probate Court. Since the 1980s, one significant overhaul of the NHJB (New Hampshire Judicial Branch) is this merger, when all state courts were unified under a single financial and administrative structure.
The jurisdiction of the courts remains the same as before the merger. The courts also maintain locations, rules, scheduling, and filing procedures. There are ten circuits in each county, including Coos county, Grafton county, Sullivan county, Carroll county, Belknap county, Merrimack county, Strafford county, Hillsborough, Rockingham county, and Cheshire county. Each Circuit Court has three divisions, each having a clerk and deputy clerk. However, several locations are supervised by a single clerk.
The New Hampshire District Division handles small claims and violation offenses, including motor vehicle matters, tenant/landlord cases, stalking cases, misdemeanors, and other civil cases. It has 50 part-time judges and 19 full-time judges. Subject to approval by the Executive council, the judicial officers are appointed by the Governor. Around the state, there are 32 Circuit court District Divisions.
This division handles civil cases except for real estate titles having damage claims not more than $1,500. It also has concurrent jurisdiction with the Superior Court over civil action for damages, excluding real estate titles to an amount not more than $25,000. However, this benchmark may be increased to $50,000 if permitted by the Supreme Court. It also has concurrent jurisdiction with the Superior Courts over matters involving domestic violence.
The New Hampshire Family Division is operational across ten counties, including Coos county, Grafton county, Sullivan county, Carroll county, Belknap county, Merrimack county, Strafford county, Hillsborough county, Rockingham county, and Cheshire county. This division deals with matters affecting the family. It has jurisdiction on cases involving parenting disputes, child support, divorce, domestic violence, parent’s right termination, guardianships, neglect and abuse cases, juvenile delinquencies, children who need supervision, and certain adoptions.
The New Hampshire Probate Division has jurisdiction over a wide range of cases that relate to trusts and estates, guardianships and involuntary commitment proceedings, wills, change of name, and real estate partition. As with the others, this division is located in the ten counties across the state. In Merrimack, Beckham, Strafford, Hillsborough, and Rockingham counties, full-time judges are assigned. On the other hand, Coos, Cheshire, Sullivan, Carroll, and Grafton counties have part-time judges.
Broadly, there are cases where the Probate division has exclusive jurisdiction and others with concurrent jurisdiction. The exclusive jurisdiction of the Probate division includes but is not limited to:
- Parent right termination
- Child adoption
- Administration, removal, and a surcharge of trustees in a trust
- Probate of a will
- Grant of administration as regards administration, sales, settlement, composition, and the final distribution of a deceased person’s estate.
- Construction and interpretation of wills; also, the interpretation, construction, termination, and modification of trusts.
- Removal and appointment of guardians to minors, conservators, and any such duty imposed on guardians, conservators, and the disposition and management of the ward’s estate.
- Claims and homestead assignments against the administrator or executor for services concerning maintenance and prior care of the decedent, insolvent estates administration, and appeals from such estates.
The concurrent jurisdiction of the Probate Division with the Superior Court includes:
- Cases other than express trust that involves charitable trusts and uses.
- Waivers for the marriage of minors.
- Power of Attorney that is durable.
The Probate division uses the Rules of the Circuit Court of the State of New Hampshire- Probate Division as a guide for its proceedings.
What are Appeals and Court Limits in New Hampshire?
The Supreme Court reviews cases from lower courts in New Hampshire. It also has original jurisdiction for the issuance of writs and receives both mandatory and discretionary appeals. Mandatory appeals are automatically accepted for review by the court. However, the court can decide whether or not to accept cases that fall under discretionary appeal. If accepted, it follows the same process as that of the mandatory appeal. The Rules of the Supreme Court of the State of New Hampshire guide the appeals procedure in New Hampshire. The forms required to file an appeal can be downloaded alongside instructions to aid the form’s completion.
There are two forms required to file an appeal - a notice of mandatory appeal form and a notice of discretionary appeal form. The type of form to be used is dependent on the type and nature of the case. Examples of mandatory appeals include final divorce decree appeal, criminal conviction appeal, small claims case appeal, and land ownership disputes appeal. An example of Discretionary appeals is a review of violent criminal proceedings (post-conviction). This includes a new trial’s motion and a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, prohibition revocation proceeding or parole, tenant/ landlord eviction proceeding to repossess rental property (this is usually on the grounds of non-payment of rent), etc.
The Appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Courts has the following time limits:
- A notice of appeal should be filed within 30days. For civil cases, the due date is within 30days from whatever date is contained on the “notice of decision” of the trial court’s clerk. In criminal cases, however, the 30days starts counting from the date of sentencing.
- A motion after the court’s final decision in civil cases can extend the appeal period as long as it is within the time limits the court rules put in place. In landlord/ tenant cases, there is a seven day limit for the filing of a motion to reconsider.
- Whatever motion is to be filed after sentencing should be done within ten days, even though it does not extend its appeal.
- The review process of all briefs takes between 45 - 60 days after filing all briefs.
- The court hears three to four oral arguments within a month.
- Within four months of oral argument, an opinion is reached and issued. However, in some cases, it takes more than four months.
How Do I Find My Case Number in New Hampshire?
A case number is a unique and easy reference that combines letters and numbers specific to criminal and civil cases. It aids easy access to case files and usually indicates the year a case is filed, the judicial officer it was assigned, and the office where it was filed. Every document and case file has its own unique and distinctive case number as this ensures easy identification and location of such a file in court and on request. When searching for a case number, results are specifics as no two case files have the same case number as opposed to a situation where a name is used.
Obtaining a court record is easier done when the party has the case number. This way, such a search is made easy for both the clerk and the individual requesting. If a requestor has the case number of the record of interest, no fee will be demanded during the request. Similarly, the requestor will not be required to fill any form, as opposed to when there is no case number; hence, its importance, if available.
Also, case numbers can be found where the search is done using the name of any party involved, such as the individual or company, alongside any other additional information required, either online or by a visit to the court clerk’s office- of the specific court.
Does New Hampshire Hold Remote Trials?
All courts under the New Hampshire Judicial Branch have been mandated to take certain steps and precautions to ensure safety while continuing with the judicial process. New Hampshire’s courts (Supreme Court, the Superior Courts, and the Circuit Courts) make necessary adjustments allowing more cases to be addressed via video, telephone, and basically without in-person hearings. Restrictions were made as regards physical access to the court.
E-filing has also been encouraged. This system of filing can be used on any device with access to the internet. However, individuals can file in paper and send it via mail to the courthouse if there is no internet access. The only situation where in-person filing is permitted at the courthouse is when it involves an emergency relief sought.
Asides from the categories of persons mentioned above, some other persons may also be permitted into the courthouse for certain reasons; these include a person:
- Scheduled to attend a hearing
- Reporting for a jury duty
- Taking part in CHINS hearing/ in-person delinquency or a bench trial holding at Circuit Court
- Paying rent or filing a required document in a tenant/landlord matter
- Who is a member of the press covering a case
The public can also access jury trials. The trial judge gets to determine the best-suited option for each trial. There are three options available as a result of the restrictions in place, and they include:
- Request a seat in the courtroom
- Via Webex, request a seat in the next courtroom
- Watch a Jury Live Stream
The NH Superior Court Public Access contains more information on this, including some live stream information. Interested persons may also call (855) 212-1234 for more information.
Following the increase in the spread of the virus, New Hampshire courts are further instructed to follow all guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control, the Governor, and the President. They are also instructed to restrict access to courtrooms and other spaces to the barest minimum and adhere to any future official proclamation or guideline that may be issued.