While there is much to debate when it comes to law enforcement powers, it is important to note the possible interpretations of legislation that could affect how citizens interact with police, no matter what “side” you’re on. While well-intentioned, the recently killed HB1025 seemed sloppy and could have had terrible ramifications for liberty. If it had passed, the bill would have made it a “misdemeanor to impede, provoke, or harass a law enforcement officer.”
The entirety of the bill’s text is as follows:
“642:11 Impeding or Provoking a Law Enforcement Officer.
I. After receiving a verbal warning from a law enforcement officer not to approach, no person shall:
(a) Violate such warning and approach;
(b) Remain within 30 feet of a law enforcement officer who is engaged in the lawful performance of any legal duty with the intent to:
(1) Interrupt, disrupt, hinder, impede, or interfere with the law enforcement officer’s ability to perform such duty; or
(2) Provoke a physical response from the law enforcement officer.
II. A person who violates this section shall be guilty of a class A misdemeanor.”
Let’s break this down.
First of all, a “verbal warning” could fall into any number of categories. The word “verbal” is the only requirement. Anything from “please step back” to “what?” could conceivably be considered a verbal warning; it doesn’t matter whether the person being issued the warning sees it as such or not. Whose statement would hold more merit in court, the police officer or the supposed criminal? The officer could simply say he issued a verbal warning, and there would be nothing the accused could do about it.
Second, the bill states that “no person shall… violate such warning and approach”. How could a person be considered to be violating a warning if they do not understand the warning? What if the person being warned doesn’t speak English? What if the person doesn’t hear the supposed warning? I end this particular point with this: consider deaf people, who are unable to hear any verbal warnings, even if they are “proper” ones. (ADA lawsuit, anyone?)
What could the officer view as an “approach”? It could mean anything from running towards them to leaning forward slightly. The bill does not offer specifics or expand on anything it states within its brief text.
Thirdly, HB1025 states that, after being issued the aforementioned verbal warning, “no person shall…remain within 30 feet of a law enforcement officer who is engaged in the lawful performance of any legal duty with the intent to…Interrupt, disrupt, hinder, impede, or interfere with the law enforcement officer’s ability to perform such duty.” This in itself brings up several issues. It is not always possible to move thirty or more feet away from a person (such as at a crowded room or protest). What can be interpreted as an “intent” to interfere? And, lastly, the words “interrupt, disrupt, hinder, impede,” and “interfere” may at first seem like confining terms, but in actuality are far from it. Most notably, the word “interrupt” can be interpreted as simply interrupting a police officer in the middle of a sentence.
Perhaps most damning, the bill also states that, after being issued the “verbal warning,” no person may “provoke a physical response from the law enforcement officer.” How can one provoke a physical response from a police officer? What can be argued as a legitimate reason to physically respond to a person? What kinds of physical responses are permitted when an officer claims they were “provoked?”
Finally, the last line of HB1025 hammers the nail in the coffin with “a person who violates this section shall be guilty of a class A misdemeanor.” A class A misdemeanor, in the state of New Hampshire, is punishable by up to one year in jail and up to a $2,000 fine, and can also go on your permanent record. When you consider the possible interpretations of this bill, it can seem like a rather excessive punishment.
Thankfully, this dangerous bill was killed on 3/10/2022 by a voice vote in the House.
Its sponsors were: Rep. Baldasaro, Rock. 5; Rep. Love, Rock. 6; Rep. Sheehan, Hills. 23; Rep. Ulery, Hills. 37; Rep. S. Pearson, Rock. 6; Rep. Post, Hills. 4; Sen. Carson, Dist 14; Sen. Giuda, Dist 2.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Liberty Block or any of its members. We welcome all forms of serious feedback and debate.