Sentenced to No Contact with Your Child?

In 2012 Christopher Long kidnapped the victim, who was pregnant at the time and soon thereafter gave birth to their child.  Mr. Long pled guilty and was sentenced to years in prison.  He also received several suspended prison sentences.  A suspended sentence means that the defendant is given a prison sentence but will not have to serve it unless he violates one of the stated conditions. One of the conditions of the suspended sentences in this case was that Mr. Long was to have no-contact with the victim.

The year after the sentencing hearing, Mr. Long filed a parenting petition in family court requesting that the court establish a parenting plan for he and his child.  He did not send copies to the victim but instead, he acknowledged the no-contact order in his petition, and asked the court to send the victim copies of all paperwork.  The court, as is the typical practice, sent notice to the victim that the parenting petition had been filed, and she accepted service at the courthouse. She then filed a petition to terminate Mr. Long’s parental rights.

The prosecutor in Mr. Long’s criminal case asked to bring forward the suspended prison sentences claiming that Mr. Long had violated the no-contact order by filing the parenting petition. The Judge agreed and imposed two to four years of suspended sentences.

Thankfully, the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the decision, ruling that the sentencing order did not give Mr. Long “fair warning” that filing a parenting petition would be considered contact with the victim.  If the no-contact order was to be interpreted in this manner then it implicated two fundamental rights — first the right to access the courts; and second, the right parent your child.  If the Court intended to eliminate these rights, it should have made that crystal clear at the time of sentencing.

The Supreme Court’s decision in this case was based entirely on lack of proper notice to Mr. Long.  It did not consider the bigger question in our mind, which is, would eliminating these constitutional rights be a legal condition of a suspended sentence in the first place?  We hope the answer is “no”.


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