An indictment is a criminal charge against a person by a Grand Jury. A Grand Jury considers evidence presented by the County Attorney or the Attorney General and decides whether there is sufficient evidence to formally charge a person with committing a crime. The Grand Jury does not decide if a person is guilty or innocent.
At one time, the "sixty-day rule" or "Hastings Rule" required that an indictment be brought within sixty days from the date of the arrest of a person accused of a crime. The Hastings rule, which is no longer in effect, was set out by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in a case decided in 1980 called State v. Hastings and said that if the state did not bring the indictment within that time, the state would have the burden of proving that the delay beyond sixty days was reasonable. This rule was thought necessary to ensure the promptness and fairness of the criminal process in New Hampshire. However, in a 1992 case, State v. Hughes, the New Hampshire Supreme Court overruled the sixty-day rule from State v. Hastings.
In overruling the case, the judges emphasized that the reasons for the sixty day rule, to ensure the promptness of the indictment in a criminal proceeding, were still valid, but that after the decision in the Hastings case, there had been several changes in the criminal process in New Hampshire. Particularly, there were new procedural protections in place to ensure those accused of serious crimes had prompt indictments. The judges still approved the idea of generally having indictments within sixty days as a goal, but they changed the law because they rejected the arbitrary time limit of sixty days and the burden on the state to show reasonableness of a process that exceeds the sixty day limit.
Why did we write a guide about something that no longer exists? Because even though the sixty-day rule ended years ago, patrons still ask us about it. Outdated legal concepts float around on the Internet long after their relevance has passed and can make for challenging reference questions.
When researching this topic, look also for the phrases "pre-indictment delay" and "pre-accusation delay."
Please remember that this guide is for information purposes only and is not comprehensive. It is intended as a starting point for research, to illustrate the various sources of the law, and to provide guidance in their use. NH Law About ... is not a substitute for the services of an attorney.