The brutal rape and murder of a college student from Massachusetts has led to a new law in New Hampshire aimed at protecting the privacy of sexual assault victims.
What was the case about?
The new law, signed recently by New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, was a response to the case of Seth Mazzaglia, who was convicted of strangling and raping Lizzi Marriott, a 19-year-old University of New Hampshire student who grew up in Westborough, Mass. Mazzaglia and a partner tossed Marriott’s body in the Piscataqua River.
What was the privacy concern?
At trial, a judge ruled that Marriott’s sexual history had no bearing on the case and could not be used by Mazzaglia’s defense lawyers, who attempted unsuccessfully to show that Marriott was a willing partner who died of accidental smothering. But on appeal, Mazzaglia argued that his conviction should be overturned because Marriott’s sexual history had been omitted from his trial.
The state Supreme Court initially announced that it would unseal records about her sexual past but later agreed to keep them sealed. But the ruling applied only to that case.
What does the new law do?
The new law makes clear that the state’s so-called rape shield law would keep the private and unrelated sexual history of sexual assault victims from being used against them in court — not only during the initial trial but also during appeals.
Marriott’s father appeared at the bill-signing ceremony and expressed his gratitude. “I thank everyone who supported Senate Bill 9 for all your work to keep other families from enduring agony that we did as we fought to safeguard our daughter’s most basic rights,” Bob Marriott said. “We are forever grateful for your commitment to victims of sexual assault everywhere and believe Lizzi rests easier knowing her great loss led to something for others.”
Are there other changes?
Sununu also signed three other pieces of legislation supported by New Hampshire victims’ advocates. One will make it easier for women who become pregnant as a result of rape to terminate their rapists’ parental rights. Another changes the language in state law regarding sexual images of children from “child pornography” to “child sexual abuse images.” The third clarifies that people accused of human trafficking or prostitution can’t argue that they didn’t know the victim was underage or that the victim consented to sex.The Associated Press contributed to this report. Felice Belman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @FeliceBelman.