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In Domestic Violence Trial, Dem Woodburn Wants Biting To Count as Self-Defense

According to his attorney, jurors should be ordered to consider biting as self-defense when they deliberate the simple assault and domestic abuse charges against Jeffrey Woodburn.

The disgraced Democratic former state Senate Minority Leader is gearing up for his second trial on allegations he assaulted his former girlfriend on multiple occasions. His arrest six years ago resulted in a trial, conviction, and multiple appeals — not to mention the end of his political career. 

Woodburn continues to fight the charges.

The Coos County Democrat was convicted in 2022, but the state Supreme Court tossed those convictions last year because he was originally barred from making the case he acted in self-defense. That sent the case back to Coos Superior Court for a new trial.

Woodburn’s attorney, Mark Sisti, filed his version of proposed jury instructions ahead of the sequel trial slated to start next week. The jury instructions make it clear Woodburn will try to justify his use of physical violence against his former girlfriend.

“A person has the right to utilize non-deadly force when he can reasonably believe that such force is necessary in order to defend himself. In this case, Jeffrey Woodburn asserts that his act of physical contact, including biting the alleged victim, was necessary as he reasonably believed that the complainant posed an imminent threat of restraining him from exiting the car,” according to the Woodburn defense documents.

According to court records, Woodburn bit the woman during a December 2017 argument as she was driving him back from a party. An intoxicated Woodburn demanded to be let out of the car, and he planned to call a friend for a ride. When the woman reached to take his phone, he allegedly bit her hand, according to the allegations.

While Woodburn was not able to cast blame on the victim at his original trial, the Supreme Court’s ruling means he can now claim the woman’s past aggressiveness when dealing with him, usually when he was intoxicated, to justify his actions. 

According to the proposed jury instructions, Woodburn will argue he was acting out of the “heat of passion” and shouldn’t be judged with hindsight.

“In deciding whether the defendant acted in self-defense, you should consider all of the circumstances surrounding the incident. You should consider how the defendant acted under the circumstances as they were presented to him at the time and not necessarily as they appear upon detached reflection. You should consider whether the defendant’s belief that it was necessary to use non-deadly force was reasonable when he acted in the heat of passion,” the proposed instructions state.

It will ultimately be up to a jury to decide if Woodburn’s self-defense claims are enough to keep him from consequences. His related convictions on charges of criminal mischief were upheld on appeal, but Woodburn has yet to serve any jail time as the 30-day sentences were stayed pending the new trial.

According to court records, Woodburn kicked the door to the woman’s house and she refused to let him inside about a week after the fight in the car. Earlier that year, in August 2017, he reportedly kicked her clothes dryer, breaking the appliance, according to court records.

Woodburn’s tenacity in fighting the charges is similar to his scramble to stay in politics after his arrest in the summer of 2018. Despite calls from state Democrats to resign, Woodburn ran for reelection and won the primary in September 2018. He went on to lose the general election that November.

Dem Woodburn Wants All Convictions Tossed in Domestic Violence Case

Former Democratic state Sen. Jeff Woodburn wants a do-over.

Woodburn and his attorney, Mark Sisti, are asking Coos Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein to toss out the two criminal mischief convictions in his domestic violence case and give him a new trial. It is a request opposed by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.

Woodburn is already getting a new trial on the domestic violence and assault charges after the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled the former Senate Minority Leader didn’t get a fair trial his first time around. He was convicted in 2021 on two counts of criminal mischief, one count of domestic violence, and one count of simple assault.

He was originally tried on nine counts. The jury found him not guilty of five charges.

The state Supreme Court ruled Woodburn should have been able to claim self-defense on the domestic violence and simple assault charges. At the same time, the state Court upheld the criminal mischief convictions. Facing 30 days in jail after the Supreme Court ruling, Woodburn now wants those charges tossed out instead.

The new domestic violence and assault trial is set for March of next year.

Sisti filed a motion seeking a new trial on the grounds that Woodburn’s prior attorney erred by not seeking separate trials on all the charges, which resulted in prejudicing the jury.

Assistant Attorney General Zachary Wolf called the arguments “nonsensical” in his motion opposing the request.

“Indeed, it is hard to see how the defendant can claim he suffered any type of prejudice in this matter when the jury chose to take him at his word, finding him guilty of only the offenses that he admitted and not guilty of the offenses he denied,” Wolf wrote.

Woodburn allegedly bit his then-girlfriend during an argument after a Christmas party in 2017. Days later, he allegedly kicked the door to the woman’s house when she refused to let him inside. Earlier that year, in August 2017, he reportedly kicked her clothes dryer, breaking the appliance, according to court records.

Sisti also wants to delay any sentencing imposed for the criminal mischief convictions, arguing his sentence might have been different if he had originally been found not guilty of domestic violence and assault. Wolf wrote that line of argument is unconvincing.

“There is simply no indication in the record that the Court would have sentenced the defendant differently had he been acquitted of the domestic violence and simple assault charges. As a result, there is nothing for the Court to reconsider at this juncture, and resentencing would be an exercise in futility,” Wolf wrote.

Woodburn has been fighting the charges for years, and he is running out of room to keep his case alive — and himself out of jail.

Patricia LaFrance, the former attorney for the victim in the case, told NHJournal there’s nothing to appeal for the criminal mischief convictions after the state Supreme Court upheld those counts.

“The next step would be the United States Supreme Court, but there would have to be some controversy that splits the states,” LaFrance said.

Criminal cases that raise questions for the United States Supreme Court usually center on legal discrepancies between states, where particular laws or standards vary. Woodburn and Sisti are not currently arguing anything that could go to the highest federal court. She said that even if they were, it is unlikely they would get that far. New Hampshire criminal cases rarely go to the High Court.

“I had a case in 2011 that went to the (United States) Supreme Court, and that was the first criminal case from New Hampshire in 40 years to go there,” LaFrance said.

Woodburn was formally charged in August 2018 and ran for reelection to the state Senate, despite calls for his resignation. Woodburn won the Democratic primary and lost in the general election in 2018.

Former Sen. Woodburn’s Domestic Violence Convictions Overturned

Disgraced Democratic legislative leader Jeff Woodburn’s domestic violence convictions have been wiped out after the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled he was denied a fair defense at trial.

“Because the record contains ‘some evidence’ supporting a rational finding that the defendant acted in self-defense, the trial court’s refusal to instruct the jury on that theory of defense was unreasonable,” Associate Justice James Bassett wrote.

The state’s high court ruled Thursday that Woodburn should have been able to argue self-defense to the jury. Woodburn (D-Whitefield) was the Democratic state Senate Minority Leader when he was charged in 2018 with assaulting his then-girlfriend.

Woodburn was blocked from arguing that he acted in self-defense against the woman, according to Bassett.

“On several occasions, the court excluded evidence of the complainant’s alleged prior aggressive conduct towards the defendant, including evidence that she had tried to block or restrain him from leaving her during previous conflicts. The defendant argued that this evidence was relevant to his theory of self-defense,” Bassett wrote.

While the court sent the domestic violence case back to Coos Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein, it also upheld Woodburn’s convictions on criminal mischief.

Michael Garrity, communications director for New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella, said there is no decision yet on whether or not to bring a new trial against Woodburn. “We are reviewing the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s opinion in the case of State v. Jeffrey Woodburn so that we can determine our next steps,” Garrity said.

Woodburn was New Hampshire’s top-ranking Democratic senator at the time of his arrest. After winning his party’s primary, Woodburn went on to lose the 2018 general election to 75-year-old first-time candidate David Starr.

“It’s disappointing that these convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court on a legal technicality,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “However, other convictions in this case still stand, and Mr. Woodburn will be going to jail for his crimes. He was convicted by a jury of his peers and by a jury that believed the survivor. This decision should not in any way discourage victims of domestic violence from coming forward and reporting abuse.”

According to court records, the convictions stem from Woodburn’s violent actions related to three separate incidents. In the first, Woodburn and the woman arrived in separate vehicles at a Dec. 15, 2017, Christmas party, and the woman agreed to drive him home so that Woodburn could drink at the party. During an argument on the drive home, Woodburn had the woman pull over, and during a struggle over his phone, he bit her hand, according to court records.

On Christmas Eve that same year, Woodburn kicked the door to the woman’s house when she refused to let him inside. in August 2017, he reportedly kicked her clothes dryer, breaking the appliance, police records showed.

The woman went on record telling Bornstein that she tried to grab his phone without permission at one point during her many struggles with Woodburn. Bornstein stated in court that phone grabbing did not rise to the level of behavior that allows for Woodburn’s self-defense claims. 

In the lead-up to the trial, Woodburn’s attorney Donna Brown, sent unredacted copies of sealed court records to press members, effectively leaking the victim’s name to the media.

“His lawyer pro-actively sent copies of unsealed documents to the media,” the alleged victim’s attorney—and former Hillsborough County prosecutor— Patricia LaFrance told NHJournal at the time. “I’ve never seen that in my 16 years as a prosecutor.”

Woodburn was sentenced to two years in jail after his trial, with all but 60 days suspended. He remains free on bail.