As a result of a ruling on appeal by New Hampshire’s Supreme Court, former state Sen. Jeff Woodburn was permitted to be re-tried on the charge of assaulting his fiancée on Dec. 15, 2017. The court held that he should have been allowed to plead self-defense in biting her in order to get a cell phone away from her.

On March 14, 2024, a second Woodburn jury came back deadlocked, indicating that at least one or more jurors found that being put out of a car at night in December, even in a neighborhood where he knew several residents, was such a threat to life and limb that he was entitled to bite his companion until she gave him the cell phone.

Somewhat hard to believe, but like I say, Welcome to Coos County!

Both the prosecutor and defendant now have a decision to make.

The state can bring Woodburn to trial again or just give up. Giving up seems the easy way out in the short run. After all, he wasn’t exonerated, and they will have demonstrated to domestic violence victims in New Hampshire that they will stand up for them – to a point.

As for Woodburn, if he isn’t called back to court, he can brag that he wasn’t convicted of domestic abuse and go on with his life. It will have cost him much money and his political career, which is no small loss for a talented politician. But he may perhaps feel he has a semblance of dignity left.

However, he could have much more if he were able to recognize the opportunity now present before him and seize it.

In sworn testimony, Jeff admitted being ashamed of his behavior during the incident. He was on the right track then. He now has one last chance to get back there by changing his plea to “guilty” before the state has time to act, thus instantly reclaiming his honor.

He would undoubtedly be offered a modest penalty that included probation and a batterer’s program and a sentence concurrent with a short one he must serve for his prior conviction on related misdemeanors. He could then quickly put this all behind him.

Afterward, he might again even enter the political arena with a contrite heart, apologetic about his indiscretions.

Jeff had a great stint as a popular state senator. Most voters would be forgiving under those circumstances and very likely give him another shot.

But not otherwise. In time, then, this whole abhorrent episode would not be the first thing one thinks of when hearing the name Woodburn. He might even try to go the extra mile by getting involved as a legislative advocate for abuse victims in a kind of penance, serving as an example to other transgressors that there is a future for those who come around. He could then make that his lasting political legacy and help change New Hampshire’s domestic violence culture for the better.

But is he man enough to take that route?

If not, he will be famous for the new precedent he has helped create: The Woodburn Bite Defense.

The fact that the New Hampshire Supreme Court allowed him to bring such a defense and get a hung jury under these facts will be national news in every law publication in the country. It’s likely to spur a flurry of attempted justification defenses in cases where passengers assault drivers who attempt to put them out of their car. That’s all he will be known for if neither party takes further action.

Hardly the legacy Sen. Woodburn once envisioned.

The Department of Justice in New Hampshire may think, in the short run, that it would be cost-effective to simply let the case lie. But they would be seriously mistaken, as the criminal defense bar of New Hampshire will be poised to take full advantage of this new precedent. There will be entire workshops entitled, “The Woodburn Defense.”

Smart defense lawyers will be looking to apply the rule wherever they can creatively insinuate it: Any man kicked out of a house, a car, a hotel room, a trailer, a cabin, a camper, at night, in the fall or winter – without a cell phone – will have a “license to bite.” At the very least, they will be able to assert such a defense under similar circumstances and, especially in Coos, have a shot at winning.

My lawyerly advice to all women who may be driving a man somewhere at night in the New Hampshire winter would then be, “Make sure you throw a live cell phone out with him if you have to put him out, or he can bite you until you do!”

One man has the power to end this line of cases before they begin while simultaneously putting his moral compass on a track to redemption with three simple words. That man is Jeff Woodburn, and the words are, “I plead guilty.”