LACONIA — A case against a Gilford veterinarian charged with facilitating an under-aged drinking party at her home was dismissed in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division yesterday.
After attorney Matt Lahey made a motion to dismiss the charge against Dr. Brenda Stowe for lack of prosecution, Gilford Sgt. Prosecutor Eric Bredbury told the court that the state was unable to produce five witnesses who would testify they were at the party and under the age of 21 at the time.
"The witnesses are all over the world, including Vietnam," Bredbury said.
Stowe was charged with a misdemeanor after police were called to her home on May 26 after someone made a noise complaint. In a media release, Lt. Kris Kelley announced 18 people under the age of 21 were found in the home that were alleged to have consumed alcohol.
In this case, the attendees at the party were from an area private school and few of them were from New Hampshire.
While the law says five or more people who are under 21 must be at the party, Bredbury said, and two other local prosecutors agreed, that RSA 644:18 is very difficult to prosecute because the state, in Judge Jim Carroll's court, is required to produce at least five people who are not related to the defendant who will testify under oath that they were under 21 at the time of the party.
Belmont Prosecutor Dave Estes and Alton Prosecute Anthony Estee, Esq. said they had lost similar cases in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division and that Lahey had been the defense attorney in all three cases.
All three prosecutors said that police testimony regarding the ages of those who are at the party is considered hearsay — or not first party testimony — and serving subpoenas on five people not related to the homeowner who don't live in the immediate area is economically not a good use of limited state resources for prosecuting a misdemeanor.
Bredbury also explained that prosecutors have an obligation not to "waste the court's time" by trying cases when eye witnesses aren't available so he and his chief made the decision not to prosecute Dr. Stowe.
According to a training PowerPoint presentation for underage alcohol enforcement prepared by former Portsmouth Police Chief Michael Magnant in 2007, legislative work on RSA 644:18 began in 2002 when a group of students in Dover wanted to make it more difficult for people to host under-aged drinking and/or drug parties.
He said the state Legislature was slow to embrace a law that had the potential to make parents criminally liable for the actions of their children and in 2003 a legislative subcommittee determined the original bill was inexpedient to legislate, effectively killing it.
In 2004, said Magnant, a new bill was introduced and it was amended to require that the facilitator of the party had to know about it and act overtly to make the party happen. The new bill also added the clause about needing five or more people not related to the homeowner or occupant to be present.
Magnant said the law was designed specifically to make it difficult to prosecute because the Legislature was still fearful of criminalizing parents for actions of their children.
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