Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard will spend five days in jail and pay significant fines after a circuit court judge in Nashua found him guilty of aggravated driving while intoxicated.
“I’m not excited about the outcome,” Hilliard said outside the courtroom, adding, “It’s important to remember, under the badge I wear proudly, there’s a human heart ... but I have to pay the consequences for what I’ve done.”
Hilliard was expecting a better outcome following Judge James H. Leary’s finding last month that Tilton police made an unlawful arrest when they took Hilliard into custody on Aug. 9 without first seeking an arrest warrant.
Judge James H. Leary on Tuesday heard pleadings from prosecution and defense attorneys about whether the blood tests taken after Hilliard’s arrest should be admissible as evidence. Those tests found that Hilliard, 58, of Northfield, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.246 that night.
Defense attorney Jared Bedrick pointed out that the consent form Hilliard signed includes the statement that refusal to submit to a blood test will result in license forfeiture. “Consent is not real consent,” he argued.
Prosecutor Jesse Renauld-Smith cited a case which centered on whether offering that choice was forcing self-incrimination. “The state has to offer the option to refuse,” he said, saying it amounts to a choice of affording the state more reliable evidence, or refusing that evidence, with consequences.
The attorneys also debated the importance of “temporal proximity” — the time between the unlawful arrest and the administration of the blood-alcohol test. Bedrick said Hilliard was still under unlawful detention and therefore the blood test should not be allowed. Renauld-Smith said Hilliard was cooperative throughout the arrest process, and giving consent to the blood test was in line with that.
Leary, reminding the attorneys that he had seen the video of the arrest, concluded that there was “no question” that Hilliard was highly intoxicated and that he had willingly given his consent to the breath test and the blood test.
“He nodded his head and gave consent every time, and he signed the consent document, so I will allow in the blood test.”
With that evidence officially on the record, neither defense nor prosecution had anything further to argue, and the hearing went on to sentencing.
Bedrick argued for leniency for his client and said Hilliard has been in law enforcement for 40 years, with periodic bouts of struggling with alcohol.
“The court is familiar with officers and mental health, and the culture in law enforcement,” Bedrick said. “People suffered in silence for many years. Mental health issues were at the surface, and manifested themselves in drinking. He sees it as a blessing in August 2019 when he got this wakeup call. Within four days, he was back in counseling, and has been every week since then. He’s been sober now for six months.”
Bedrick continued: “The most important part, he had to do something that most others don’t do. He was in a position to explain what was going on, and admitted in the press that he had an alcohol issue. When he did that, he found there were lots of law enforcement officers — and lawyers — coming to him, appreciating what he was doing. This is someone who has done exactly what we want defendants to do. He didn’t wait until he was found guilty, but came forward before then.
“I ask the court to think in terms of that lesson: Don’t wait, do that without coercion, so when you’re in front of a judge, you’ve done enough to reduce the risk of recidivism that the court doesn’t have to do more.”
‘Don’t want you out there driving’
While the judge dismissed the lesser counts of impaired driving, he found Hilliard guilty of aggravated driving while intoxicated, as well as transportation of alcohol.
On the main charge, Leary imposed a $930 fine, a 12-month loss of license, and 17 days in the Belknap County House of Corrections, with 12 days suspended. While the prosecution asked to require that Hilliard use an alcohol interlock device on his vehicle for 12 months, Leary extended the requirement for 24 months, saying he wants to make sure that Hilliard does no more driving while impaired.
“If you had not done anything,” he said in reference to Hilliard’s seeking counseling, “I would be far more strict. … I commend you for taking those steps, but my concern and fear is that you’d be behind the wheel impaired [and] I don’t want you out there driving.”
The judge issued a suspended $500 fine on the transportation of alcohol charge, which could be brought forward if Hilliard does not abide by the terms of the sentence.