By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The state Supreme Court reversed domestic violence and simple assault convictions against former state Sen. Jeffrey Woodburn, 57, of Whitefield on Thursday and ordered a new trial.
The court upheld two criminal mischief convictions against him relative to complaints by his former fiancé Emily Jacobs when he was a state Senator and both were active in the Democratic party in the North Country in 2017.
Since they weren’t reversed, Woodburn, a non-lawyer who represented himself before the state Supreme Court, will likely would have to serve the 30-day sentence in total for those property crimes.
“The state Supreme Court confirmed that I was unfairly treated and wrongfully convicted,” Woodburn said after the order was released Thursday.
“As I said from the beginning more than four years ago, that this process would and will continue to reveal the truth, underlying politics, and injustice. I know what happened in this relationship, my mistakes and that I defended myself and never abused anyone.“
The state is reviewing the decision, according to Deputy Attorney General Jim Boffetti, who said it is possible the domestic violence charges won’t be re-charged. Boffetti said Jacobs will be contacted. Jacobs didn’t respond to InDepthNH.org’s request for comment made through the Attorney General’s Office and otherwise couldn’t be reached.
Woodburn argued Judge Peter Bornstein erred in Coos Superior Court by refusing to instruct the jury on the issue of self-defense and claimed the judge wrongly excluded evidence of the complainant’s alleged prior acts of aggression against Woodburn, arguing that the evidence was admissible.
“Because we agree with the defendant that the court’s failure to give a self-defense instruction was error, we reverse his convictions for domestic violence and simple assault, affirm his criminal mischief convictions, and remand,” Associate Justice James Bassett wrote.
The order also said, “on remand the court should consider whether any prior acts of aggression by the complainant sought to be admitted by the defendant are logically connected to the defendant’s state of
mind at the time of the charged offenses such that they may be admitted for a non-propensity purpose.”
According to the order the two were involved in a three year romantic relationship from August 2015 to July 2018.
“The final year of their relationship was marked by frequent conflict. As relevant to this appeal, on December 15, 2017, the defendant and the complainant had an argument while driving to Jefferson from a holiday party in Lancaster. The complainant was driving.”
Bassett summarized the fight: At some point during the disagreement, Woodburn stated that he wanted to get out of the car. The complainant pulled the car over on a dirt road, and Woodburn stated that he was getting out and that he was going to call his friend to come pick him up. In response, the complainant reached for the defendant’s cell phone and a “tug of war” ensued.
“Woodburn then bit the complainant on her left hand, which caused her to release the phone. The defendant was charged with one count of simple assault and one count of domestic violence as alternative charges arising from this incident,” Bassett wrote, noting Woodburn filed a notice of defense, which stated that he intended to rely on the defense of self-defense.
Woodburn said the long process showed the system worked.
“There are two ways to look at this: as a gross abuse of the process by a scorned former partner to up-end our election or that the process corrected itself by reversing the conviction and acknowledging that important evidence was withheld and my right to self-defense was denied. I prefer to focus on the latter and dedicating myself to making sure others get a fair shake in our criminal justice system, which now ensnarls 30-percent of our people,” Woodburn said.
He noted the long process started with nine charges just before an election, an intense investigation with over 2,000 pages of discovery, and “included a legal effort to strip me of my right to choose my own attorney and eventually representing myself before the Supreme Court — and in the end, all they were left with were two property convictions relating to a dryer and a door.”
“While this process was difficult, what I could never imagine is the how being evicted from my old life would bring such a wonderful new life,” Woodburn said.
In a statement on Twitter, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence criticized the state Supreme Court’s ruling and said the jurors believed the victim.
“This decision should not in any way discourage victims of domestic violence from coming forward and reporting abuse,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, the coalition’s director of public affairs.