What is the Law on affray in New Hampshire and what are the Punishments for it?
When two or more people fight in a public place such that it terrorizes people, they are guilty of the offense of affray, a common-law term of the colonial era. The Laws of affray fall in the category of Laws for community welfare and public peace and rephrased under Statutes governing disorderly conduct across Federal, State, and Municipal rules and rulings. Peace is hard to come by in urban settings or places offering alcohol or emotional excitement.
Hence one may presume that disorderly conduct is a regularly filed criminal charge in any jurisdiction. Many States, including the State of New Hampshire, have revised their statutes such that any fight that causes public alarm suffices as the misdemeanor of fighting in a public place and the need to cause terror is no longer a mandate. Hence, the key elements of this crime are:
- Fighting – It is an incident wherein two or more people assault each other knowingly irrespective of their intent to defend themselves or harm the other.
- Fighting between two or more people – In the event of a fight, if it is with animals, such that not more than one person is a participant while the other participant is someone’s dog, bull or horse, then such a fight cannot be identified as an affray. To be the said misdemeanor, at least two people must be willing participants assaulting each other.
- Fighting must be at a public place - In New Hampshire, a "public place" represents any place that is accessible to a substantial group of people or openly accessible by the public. The term is inclusive of places like public ways, hospitals, schools, government offices, sidewalks, dormitories, hotels, or motels and the lobbies or hallways of apartment buildings.
- The fighting must cause public alarm – It is usually not expected of anyone to participate in a fight in a public place. Fights are presumed unnecessary and no reasonable person is expected to engage in a fight at a public place. Hence, any such unexpected fight is an obvious cause of alarm. In common law, the necessary element for affray was the infliction of a terrorizing fear in people, but such is not the case in modern codified law. Even a hint of public alarm.
In New Hampshire, general practice of prosecutors is to file charges of disorderly conduct under New Hampshire Revised Statutes section 644:2 as well as related offenses, which may be that of assault, domestic violence if the fight involves family members even if it is in a public place, riot or protest at a funeral or even obstructing justice.
It is pertinent to note how the Class B felony of riot is distinguished from the misdemeanor of disorderly conduct and how an escalation can ruin a defendant’s ability to seek relief.
- Fighting involves at least 2 people, while rioting involves at least 3 people.
- Fighting has participants assaulting each other while rioting may or may not involve mutual combat.
- Fighting is a misdemeanor against people, rioting can also be a felony against property or an institution.
- If during a fight, the participants show clear disregard to intervening authorities and try to escalate the fight, it is identified as a riot. This includes clear communication of warnings and physical intervention by authorities such as law enforcement, security personnel or emergency personnel.
While disorderly conduct is awarded a conviction of imprisonment of at most 12 months with or without a fine of up to $1,000, the felony of a riot the prison term may be for a period no more than 2 years with or without a fine and restitution to the public institution subject to the riot.