Blanchette

Former Belknap County Sheriff’s deputy Ernest Blanchette appears in court in this 2016 photo. (Laconia Daily Sun file photo)

LACONIA — A superior court judge has refused to dismiss a case against a former Belknap County Sheriff’s deputy charged with sexually assaulting a prisoner.

Ernest Blanchette had asked the court to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds that the law he was charged with violating was unconstitutionally vague, and because he was being denied his right to a speedy trial.

In a ruling handed down Monday, Superior Court Judge James D. O’Neill III denied Blanchette’s motion on both grounds.

Blanchette, 41, was first indicted in 2016 and charged with assaulting a female inmate at the Belknap County House of Correction as he was transporting the woman back to the facility from a dental appointment in 2014.

In 2016 Blanchette asked to have the indictments dismissed. But the court held off any decision pending the outcome of an appeal of his conviction on similar charges, brought in 2015, in Hillsborough County. The state Supreme Court in 2017 reversed Blanchette’s conviction on the grounds that – because the Hillsborough County assaults had taken place while the inmate was being transported from the Belknap Superior Court in Laconia to the state Women’s Prison in Goffstown – Blanchette was acting at the direction of the court and so no evidence was presented during his trial to show that he was being employed by a correctional facility.

The Belknap Superior Court then dismissed the Belknap County indictments against Blanchette, and in 2018 stated that the indictments were dismissed without prejudice, meaning prosecutors were free to bring charges in the future.

Blanchette was then arrested last June on two charges of aggravated felonious sexual assault, and one charge of felonious sexual assault. He was indicted on the charges last October.

Blanchette has argued that the law which states that any sexual contact between an inmate and corrections officer is considered sexual assault does not apply to him because he was on the staff of the Sheriff’s Department, and not the county corrections facility, and so therefore cannot be considered a Corrections Department employee.

O’Neill, however, rejected that argument, writing, “The court is unpersuaded by the distinction the defendant attempts to draw with respect to what agency employed him. The (House of Correction) instructed the defendant to transport (the alleged victim) which necessarily entailed the defendant having direct supervisory control over (the inmate), thereby entrusting the defendant with the functions normally carried out by (the House of Correction). The court concludes that a reasonable person would understand that this conduct to fall under the statute.”

Because the Belknap County Attorney’s Office did not drop the charges against Blanchette, but rather the court dismissed the indictments, the “speedy-trial" clock reset when the indictments were dismissed.

As to the 10 months that have passed since Blanchette was arrested on the latest charges, O’Neill said that Blanchette had not shown that the delay was being caused by the prosecutors and concluded that he failed to specify how the delay is harming his ability to defend himself at trial.

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