LACONIA — A Superior Court judge has ruled that charges that former Belknap County Sheriff’s Deputy Ernest Justin Blanchette allegedly sexually assaulted prisoners entrusted to his care were dismissed on technical grounds, meaning prosecutors are now free to re-indict him.
In a one-page ruling handed down Friday, Judge James D. O’Neill III wrote, the charges of aggravated felonious sexual assault against Blanchette “were dismissed because they were constitutionally deficient for failing to include all the necessary elements of the defendant’s alleged crimes. … Therefore, the court clarifies that the Oct. 17, 2017, dismissal of the indictments was without prejudice.” During the hearing Woods said there were no extraordinary circumstances that would justify dismissing the charges with prejudice.
“We are pleased with that outcome,” Belknap County Attorney Andrew Livernois said when informed of O’Neill’s ruling. “ We will now be exploring whether to re-indict Mr. Blanchette on some of those charges.”
A call to Blanchette’s attorney, Brad Davis, seeking comment was not immediately returned.
At a hearing before O’Neill Thursday, Assistant Belknap County Attorney Adams Woods asked the judge to state for the record whether the charges were dismissed with prejudice — meaning permanently and thus barring the possibility that Blanchette could be re-charged — or without prejudice.
In 2016 Blanchette was charged in both Belknap and Hillsborough counties of sexually assaulting or allowing others to sexually assault inmates during prisoner transports.
He was tried and convicted of the charges in Hillsborough County, and subsequently sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.
However, in May 2017, the state Supreme Court overturned Blanchette’s conviction, on the grounds that the state law regarding sexual assault against prisoners by their overseers applies only to detention facility employees, and not to personnel with other law enforcement agencies.
The Belknap County charges were still pending at the time of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
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