The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Thursday reversed a former state senator’s convictions on domestic violence and simple assault, saying the trial judge was wrong to deny his request to instruct the jury on a self-defense argument.
The court sent Jeff Woodburn’s case back for a new trial on the misdemeanors. Woodburn did not challenge criminal mischief convictions related to property damage.
Woodburn, of Whitefield, was convicted in Coos County in 2021, following a relationship he had with a woman from 2015-2018. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail. The domestic violence and assault charges alleged that he bit her hand as the two struggled over a cellphone.
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Woodburn, who pleaded not guilty, remained out on bail pending his appeal.
At trial, his lawyer argued that the woman conspired with a mutual friend to develop a list of incidents Woodburn allegedly committed in a plot to scare him and prevent him from leaving her. A prosecutor said that wasn’t true.
“As I said from the beginning more than four years ago, that this process would and will continue to reveal the truth, underlying politics, and injustice,” Woodburn, who represented himself during his appeal, said in a statement. “I know what happened in this relationship, my mistakes and that I defended myself and never abused anyone.”
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Woodburn argued whether the judge was wrong or violated his constitutional rights by failing to instruct the jury to consider the self-defense argument. The high court agreed.
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said it found it disappointing the domestic violence and assault convictions were overturned “on a legal technicality.”
“This decision should not in any way discourage victims of domestic violence from coming forward and reporting abuse,” spokesperson Amanda Grady Sexton said in a statement.
Woodburn, a Democrat, served three terms in the Senate. He lost reelection in 2018 to Republican David Starr, of Franconia.
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