Senate committee unanimously supports ‘Joshua’s Law’ making domestic violence a specific crime in NH

CONCORD – A state Senate panel unanimously embraced legislation creating “Joshua’s Law,” a new crime of domestic violence that would be named after a 9-year-old Amherst boy tragically killed by his father last August.

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said the bipartisan backing for her bill (SB 318) gives her renewed hope that her top legislative priority will be successful in 2014.

“This one will make a real difference; I’m passionate about it,” said Soucy, whose district includes Litchfield along with south and east wards in Manchester.

Joshua Savyon was killed by his father, Muni Savyon, during a court-ordered supervised visit last August at the Manchester YWCA visitation center.

Muni Savyon, who turned the gun on himself, was under a domestic violence protective order because he had threatened to kill Joshua and Becky Ranes, Joshua’s mother.

Last month, Ranes spoke for the measure and asked it be named after Joshua.

“You don’t have to be beaten or bruised to experience domestic violence. My family and I lived it every day,” Ranes said. “The threat to kill us was real. The attempts to control us were real. We lived each day with fear.”

New Hampshire has a pretty good reputation for its law enforcement and advocate response to domestic violence. But it is one of only 15 states that doesn’t have a separate crime for domestic violence.

Legislators have argued that the a bar fight is very different crime than a husband beating up his wife, but both are often classified as simple assault. As a result, the state lacks accurate data on how prevalent domestic violence is from one year to the next.

“Joshua’s Law takes existing criminal charges commonly charged in domestic violence cases, brings them under the umbrella of one crime, and labels it what it actually is: domestic violence,” Soucy said.

“Police and prosecutors believe the paper trail this creates would help to identify and stop repeat abusers.”

Joshua’s Law is supported by chiefs of police, county sheriffs and attorneys, the attorney general and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice noted domestic violence is involved in half of the homicides committed in New Hampshire and 92 percent of the murder-suicides.

“An incident of domestic violence is rarely a one-time occurrence,” Rice said. “Usually, it involves a cycle of violence.”

Ranes testified she did not realize she had been subjected to domestic violence until she reported Muni Savyon’s threats and got a pamphlet on the topic.

Advocates say creating this new crime would increase due process rights for the accused and retain discretion for law enforcement.

The language in the bill mirrors the federal domestic violence law and requires prosecutors to prove the incident involves family or household members or those in an intimate relationship.

The proposal does not change any criminal penalties for the conduct.

The state Senate is expected to endorse the measure when it meets this week.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).