Welcome to the NH Judicial Branch Self Help site
This page will assist you in resolving any questions or issues you may have as you go forward through the judicial system. These pages provide basic, practical information about the New Hampshire court system, how it works, and what the procedures are for bringing a case to court.
You should be aware that when you come to court without a lawyer you take a risk. The court staff can provide you legal information, but cannot give you legal advice. See this short video (Español) to learn more about what the court staff can provide. Sometimes even simple matters can have legal consequences that you are unaware of or do not understand. Resources may be available to you for low-cost legal assistance.
Want to represent yourself in court? Visit our Self-Represented webpage to learn more about what to expect at a courthouse and the resources available to you inside and outside the court system.
The New Hampshire Court System's doors are open to all, whether you use a lawyer or represent yourself. There are several agencies that provide low-cost legal aid or free (pro bono) legal aid. You may also be able to hire a lawyer to help you with part of your legal case which could save time and money.
In some instances, depending on your case, there are alternatives to legal action, which are known in the court system as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) programs. For many types of issues, such as small claims actions, probate matters and domestic relations issues, ADR can offer an alternative to a court action which can save you money and time. For other problems, there may be resources in the community that can help you.
Administrative Judge David D. King explains the resources available to you to hire a lawyer for your case.
How to Access a Lawyer
How to Access a Lawyer
Transcript of video:
My name is David King, I'm the deputy administrative judge for the New Hampshire Circuit Court. I've been a judge for twenty six years. I want to talk to you today about the issue of legal representation in court cases that you may be involved in. The courts try to do all they can to make the legal process easy to understand. But the reality is that the judicial system can be complicated and many times can be extremely stressful for those involved. Judges have an obligation to assure that everyone receives a fair trial, but they cannot provide advice on the law or procedure to people involved in cases before them.
At the same time, the cost of legal representation can often be greater than someone is able to pay. The good news is that there are alternatives to paying for private lawyers in your case, and that is exactly what I want to discuss with you. There are basically two types of cases that are filed in the courts, criminal and civil cases. The simple difference between them is that criminal cases are those cases brought by the state or local law enforcement departments to enforce motor vehicle and criminal laws.
Civil cases, on the other hand, are filed by individuals asking the court to resolve a matter between them. Examples would be landlord tenant, small claims, divorces and other cases brought between private individuals or between a business and an individual. The ability to be represented by a lawyer in your case, in the way in which you go about receiving legal assistance at low or no cost to you depends in part on the type of case that you were involved in.
If you were charged with a criminal offense that can result in the possibility of you being sent to jail, then you have the right that is guaranteed by our Constitution to be represented by a lawyer. If you don't have enough money to hire a lawyer on your own, the state is obligated to provide one for you. You will not have to pay anything for that lawyer up front, but the state is entitled to be reimbursed for the expense and will make arrangements with you at the time that the case is resolved. In a civil case on the other hand, there is no constitutional right to representation. However, there are other resources available through the New Hampshire Bar Association and through two statewide agencies that can assist you with legal representation and information if you qualify financially. If you can't afford a lawyer. The legal aid agencies, New Hampshire Legal Assistance and LARC Legal Advice and Referral Center can teach you how to help yourself in the courts. Many people represent themselves in court and do so successfully.
If you don't feel comfortable representing yourself, you may be able to get a volunteer lawyer to handle your case or a lawyer to help you with parts of your case. In some cases, the Legal Aid organization will represent you for the whole case or for part of your case, such as for a hearing or to attend a session of mediation. The legal aid organizations wish that they could represent everyone, but because of their limited budgets and resources, they simply cannot.
This is the reason that so many people represent themselves with guidance by the legal aid organizations. If you have limited income, you should contact LARC and apply to them for services. LARC will be able to determine what services you may be able to receive. LARC is the gateway, the starting point or the entrance ramp, if you will, to find reliable legal services in New Hampshire at no cost to those who qualify as low income. As the gateway, LARC legal advocates may help you, may refer you to the New Hampshire Legal Assistance, or may refer you to the pro bono program of the New Hampshire Bar Association. If you have any questions about your qualifications for low or no cost representation, you should contact LARC first. In fact, if you contact either the New Hampshire Legal Assistance or the pro bono program, they will send you to LARC as a starting point. Both of those agencies take cases and send lawyers to court, but only for particular kinds of cases due to their limited resources. The quickest way to speak with someone at LARC is to start online to fill out an application, go to www.nhlegalaid.org and click apply for legal services, fill out an application and someone will call you back at the times you say you're available if you think you may be able to afford a lawyer to help you with part or all of your case, but you're not sure what lawyer to contact, you should contact the New Hampshire Bar Association at 603-229-0002.
They can answer those questions. If you receive a court paper with your name on it or a notice from a government assistance agency, you will need to find out your legal options. Apply to LARC at www.nhlegalaid.org. You may have legal options. Many people are surprised that they have legal options, you won't know unless you apply for assistance, we hope you will consider applying to get legal help before you do anything else.
If you have any questions about anything we've talked about on this video, please contact our information center at 1-855-212-1234. Thank you for your time today.
Judge David LeFrancois explains some of the words you might come across in the New Hampshire court system.
Transcript of video:
Hello, my name is Judge David LeFrancois, I'm a judge in the state's circuit court. I often sit in the Brentwood and Candia courts, but you may see me from time to time in other courts as well. I am going to explain some words that are used in the courts which may not be familiar to everyone. We want you to become familiar with these terms and to understand them so that you will be better able to understand court procedures and will be better prepared to participate in your case.
Here is the list of the terms I will define for you. Plaintiff or petitioner. Defendant or respondent. Nol pros. Continuance. Motion. Objection. Pleading. Appearance. Docket. Evidence. Ex parte. Offers of proof. Civil case. Criminal case.
Plaintiff or petitioner. This is the person or party who files the case in court by filing a document in the court called a complaint or petition asking the court to decide the issues that are being presented for resolution.
Defendant or respondent. This is the person or party who is being sued in a civil case. In a criminal case or motor vehicle case, the defendant is the person that is being charged with a crime or a motor vehicle violation.
Nol pros. This is a Latin term, which is a formal statement of the prosecutor indicating that a criminal charge or a motor vehicle charge will not be prosecuted. When a case is nol pros'd, the defendant is no longer charged with the offense, the case is dismissed and there is no conviction on that charge.
Continuance. This term simply means postponement of a hearing or trial. If a party cannot attend a hearing for some reason, they will be required to file a motion to continue. And if granted, the court will reschedule the case. When the court schedules a hearing in a case, the clerk's office sends all of the people involved in the case a hearing notice to tell everyone the date, the time and the location of the hearing.
If a person or party cannot attend on that date or at that time, the party may file a written request with the court asking that the case be continued to a different date or time. When a case is continued, it is rescheduled to another date and all of the parties to the case are notified.
Motion. A request made to the judge to do something in an existing case is called a motion. Motions are typically made in writing and are filed with the court.
Sometimes motions are made verbally when the people involved in the case are in the courtroom. But most motions are made in writing. When the court receives a written motion from one of the parties to the case, the motion is held for 10 days to allow the other people or parties involved in the case to respond. If the other people or parties involved in the case respond within ten days, the judge will consider all of the responses and may schedule a hearing at which the parties or their lawyers will be asked to explain their request or objection in person before the judge makes a decision.
Objection. When a person involved in a court case, a party to the case, does not agree with a request, a motion made to the court, an objection to the motion can be filed with the court. The objection must be filed on time. Typically within 10 days of the date, the motion was received by the court. The objection needs to tell the court the reasons for the objection. If the objection is filed on time, the judge will consider it before deciding whether to grant or deny a motion.
Objections can also be made verbally in the courtroom during court hearings when a party believes that the evidence being presented to the judge is not permitted by court rules.
Pleading, this is a word used to refer to any document filed with the court asking that the court do something. For instance, a motion filed with the court is a pleading and an objection filed with the court is a pleading.
Appearance. This simply means that the party or the party's lawyer has been notified of the case and is advising the court and the other parties that he or she intends to contest the case and want to receive all the notices concerning the case and have the opportunity to respond to any pleading made.
Docket, this is simply the list of cases heard by the court on a day.
Evidence. When a case is filed in court, the judge or jury has to decide it based upon evidence, which are facts, documents or other things presented in court through the sworn testimony of a witness to support or oppose a claim. The decision whether to consider any evidence is made by the judge. If the judge decides the evidence is not admissible, it cannot be considered when the judge makes his or her decision in the case.
Ex parte. This is a Latin term, it refers to a request made to the court by one person involved in a case without the other people in the case being notified or given an opportunity to respond. These types of requests are very unusual because normally court rules require that when a request, called a motion or a petition is made to the court, the person filing the request must send a copy of the request to the other people involved in the case in order to give them an opportunity to respond before the judge makes the decision.
Ex parte requests should only be filed in emergency situations when it is likely, for example, that someone will be seriously harmed if the court waits for a response from the other people involved in the case before making a decision. If the judge grants an ex parte request, it will be granted on a temporary basis to give the other party a chance to respond, so the decision can be reviewed to determine whether it should remain in place.
Offers of proof. An offer of proof is a summary of what a witness would say if sworn to tell the truth at a court hearing. Normally, testimony is given in court under oath, but sometimes to save time, the judge will ask the lawyer or a self represented person to give an offer of proof, summarizing what the witness would say.
A civil case is one that involves rights and obligations among the parties, which are established by agreement, such as a contract or by law or by accepted standards of conduct. A civil claim is one where the plaintiff claims the defendant did not do what he or she was obligated to do and that the defendant's failure to do so caused the plaintiff harm.
If you were to claim someone failed to abide by the terms of a contractual agreement and that this caused, you harm this would be a civil case. Also, if you are involved in an automobile accident and you claim that the other party is at fault and caused you damage, this is a civil case. Civil cases typically involve a claim of money damages. Civil cases are different from criminal cases because in civil cases, no one goes to jail and there is no finding of criminal misconduct.
In a civil case, the plaintiff must prove that to the court by a preponderance of the evidence, that it is more likely than not that the defendant is at fault. The degree of proof needed to prove a criminal case is higher than in a civil case.
A criminal case is one where the government, through a prosecutor, claims that a person has broken a criminal law. If the prosecutor proves that the defendant broke the law, the defendant can be sentenced to serve time in jail or prison and can be fined, ordered to perform community service, pay restitution, and can be placed on probation and required to report to a probation officer for a period of time when a criminal charge could result in jail or prison time, the defendant has a right to be represented by an attorney from the very beginning of the case, and if he or she cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them. In criminal cases, the defendant is presumed to be innocent. The prosecutor must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order to get a conviction. The defendant does not need to present any evidence at all. The entire burden of proof is on the prosecutor.
If the prosecutor fails to prove any element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The court must find the defendant not guilty. I hope that these definitions are helpful and that you now have a better understanding of what these legal terms mean. If you have the time, I encourage you to attend a court hearing in a case similar to yours before you have to go to court. Feel free to call the court's information center at 1-855-212-1234 to find out when hearings are set for courts in your area before the one you are scheduled to attend.
Most hearings are public. You are welcome to go and watch hearings to become more familiar with how yours might go. If you have any other questions about these definitions, please call the court's information center. Same number 1-855-212-1234. You can get further information. Thank you for your time.
Never been to a court? Administrative Judge Susan W. Ashley explains what you can expect when you go to a court hearing.
What to Expect at a Court Hearing
What to Expect at a Court Hearing
Transcript of video:
My name is Susan Ashley and I'm a judge in the circuit court. I often sit in Rochester, but you may see me at other courts from time to time as well. Today, I want to talk to you about what you can expect when you go to a court hearing. It is important to be prepared and understand what will be happening at your hearing once you find out from the court security officer as you walk in or from the clerk's office where your hearing will take place.
Go straight to that courtroom and take a seat. It is always good to arrive at least 10 minutes before your hearing is scheduled. In most cases, someone from the clerk's office will come into the courtroom and take attendance. Make sure to listen for your case and let the clerk know you are present. If nobody takes attendance, don't worry. The cases will all be called by name after the judge comes out. Be respectful and don't talk while other hearings are going on.
When it is time for your case, you will likely hear it called by something like parties in the case of Smith vs. Sanchez or whatever the name of the case is. At that time, go up to one of the tables which are just in front of the judge's bench. If you're unsure which table is for you in a particular hearing, simply ask a court security officer or bailiff. When you first go up to the table after your case is called, organize your paperwork in front of you so you can easily look at it as the hearing goes along.
Feel free to sit at this time if the judge is not yet on the bench. When the judge comes into the room, you will hear someone say, all "all rise". Normally the name of the judge who is presiding over the hearing will be said as well. If you are physically able, you will stand up when you hear the all rise and you will stay standing until the judge or court security or court staff asks you to be seated.
If you were going to speak to the judge about facts in the case, the judge will swear you in by asking you to raise your right hand and commit to telling the truth. You are then under oath and obligated to tell the truth about what happened. When it is your turn to talk, you're expected to stand up to speak if you're physically able to do so, unless the judge directs you to stay seated. There are several respectful ways to refer to the judge in the courtroom, the most common ways are your honor or judge. Always keep in mind the reason you're there.
The judge may ask you questions and you should be prepared to listen carefully to the question and answer only the question asked. If the judge needs more information to make a decision, they will ask. Sometimes the judge will tell you at the end of the hearing what the outcome is. Often, though, the judge will say they are taking it under advisement. This means that the judge will think about the case and the information you and the other party presented at the hearing, do some legal research and make a decision after the hearing is over. If this happens, you will get an order in the mail telling you what the judge decides. If your case is a case that was e-filed, you will get the decision through the e-filing system. At the end of the court hearing, the judge may leave the bench or the court security person may call the next case. If the judge leaves the bench, you will be asked to rise again as the judge is leaving the courtroom.
Either way, at the end of your hearing, you should thank the judge for listening, then pack up your papers and leave that front section of the courtroom. Remember, as you make your way out of the courtroom that another hearing may have started already. So wait until you get out of the room before talking. That concludes this brief video about what to expect at a court hearing. To help prepare yourself, feel free to go watch other court hearings in the weeks or days before yours is scheduled.
Most hearings are open to the public and you do not need permission to sit in the courtroom. If you have any questions about anything in this video, please contact our information center at 1-855-212-1234. Thank you.
Notice about the Self-Help pages
Notice about the Self-Help pages
The Self-Help website should not be considered a substitute for legal advice. It contains basic information about court procedures, locations, forms and fees. You will also find helpful information about legal assistance. The Judicial Branch is not responsible for any error or omission on this website.
Need more help?
The staff in the Clerk's office and the staff in the Trial Court Information Center (1-855-212-1234) will be happy to help you. But, please remember that the court staff must remain impartial. They do not take sides. They give the same information to both sides to a case. Callers from outside the US or Canada must use the Circuit Court's toll number: 603-415-0162.