Author of Lamy decision has died; called for fetal homicide legislation

Former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice James Duggan has died, and may he rest in peace.

According to a New Hampshire Sunday News report, Duggan was famed as a public defender before being named to the Court by then-Governor Shaheen. For me, his reputation rests on something else: his authorship of the State v. Lamy decision in 2009. Without that case, we might still be fighting for a fetal homicide law in New Hampshire.

The 4-0 decision overturned the manslaughter conviction of an impaired driver whose speeding vehicle collided with a vehicle driven by a pregnant woman. That victim’s baby was subsequently delivered by cesarean, but died a few days later of injuries sustained in utero caused by the impact of the collision.

Later convicted of multiple charges, the speeding driver appealed. While most of the convictions were upheld, the Court overturned the manslaughter conviction for the death of the baby. The Court ruled that existing New Hampshire law simply did not address the circumstances of the case. The baby had’t been “alive” for legal purposes when he sustained the injury.

And then Duggan added a compelling call to action: “Should the legislature find the result in this case as unfortunate as we do, it should follow the lead of many other states and revisit the homicide statutes as they pertain to a fetus.”

Getting there took eight years, two particularly brave and persistent families, and some heartbreaking setbacks. The inexplicable and outrageous resistance of abortion advocates to fetal homicide legislation carried too much weight for too long. Finally in 2017 New Hampshire’s legislators and governor followed the Court’s advice.

I think that the families who came forward again and again to testify about their lost children made the difference. The Lamy decision gave their testimony indispensable support.