Harry M. Snow, IV
The defendant, Andrea Snow (Wife), appeals a domestic violence final order of protection issued by the trial court at the request of the plaintiff, Harry M. Snow, IV (Husband). She argues that the Husband failed to present sufficient evidence to sustain a finding of domestic violence and that the trial court misinterpreted or misapplied the statutory definition of abuse as set forth in RSA 173-B:1, I. We vacate and remand.
The purpose of RSA chapter 173-B is "to preserve and protect the safety of the family unit for all family or household members by entitling victims of domestic violence to immediate and effective police protection and judicial relief." In the Matter of Morrill and Morrill, 147 N.H. 116, 117 (2001) (quotation omitted). "Any person may seek relief pursuant to RSA 173-B:5 by filing a petition, in the county or district where the plaintiff or defendant resides, alleging abuse by the defendant." RSA 173-B:3, I (2002). To obtain relief under RSA chapter 173-B, a plaintiff must show "abuse" by a preponderance of the evidence. RSA 173-B:5, I. "Abuse" is defined to include the commission or attempted commission of one or more of several criminal acts where the conduct constitutes "a credible present threat" to the plaintiff's safety. RSA 173-B:1, I (Supp. 2012) (emphasis added). We note that this definition was amended by the legislature in 2010 to include the word "present."
As we have previously observed, domestic violence protective orders are to be utilized when a victim has shown a need for protection from an ongoing, credible threat to his or her safety. Tosta v. Bullis, 156 N.H. 763, 767 (2008). The threat posed by the cited conduct must be ongoing, since a "finding of abuse shall mean the defendant represents a credible threat to the safety of the plaintiff." RSA 173-B:5, I.
We first address whether the trial court misinterpreted or misapplied the statutory definition of "abuse." The record reflects that, after the close of the evidence, the trial court announced from the bench that it would grant the petition, finding that the Wife had engaged in assault and destruction of property, and that her conduct constituted a credible threat to the Husband's safety. When the Wife responded that the Husband's actions in taking a weekend trip and spending time with her immediately following the assaults "showed that she is not an ongoing threat to his safety, " the trial court stated:
The language of the statute is "and where such conduct, " referencing the acts "constitutes a credible threat to the Plaintiff's safety." So I do find that he suffered injuries. There's – the evidence of scratches, cuts, black eyes and the like I find constitutes a credible threat to his safety. I appreciate there's a difference of opinion, but that's the decision I've made.
Although the order issued by the trial court was on a preprinted form that set forth the correct statutory standard; that is, that the Wife's conduct constituted a credible present threat, the trial court's discussion at the close of evidence does not reflect the same narrow definition. Because we are unable to determine from the record before us whether the trial court applied the amended legal standard, we vacate and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this order.
Vacated and remanded.
HICKS, CONBOY, and BASSETT, JJ., ...