Category `New Hampshire Statutes`

Introduction to New Hampshire Statutes

Statutes are published in three forms: first as slip laws, then as session laws, and finally as statutory codes. The statutory code is the version that most library patrons are familiar with. The NH code is called the Revised Statutes Annotated and is available in print and online. The code is divided broadly by subject into Titles, Chapters, Sections, and smaller sections as needed.  

Abbreviations

There are rules about how a statute should be referred to ("cited") in formal documents, but you may see the Revised Statutes Annotated abbreviated several ways:   

R.S.A.

N.H. R.S.A. or

N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann.

For example, a reference to the RSA on drivers’ licenses - Chapter 263, section 42, paragraph one - looks like this:  

RSA 263:42, I

N.H. R.S.A. 263:42, I or 

N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. 263:42, I         

Revised Statutes Online

The free online version of NH’s statutory code is titled “Revised Statutes Online.” Note the “updated” information at the top of the screen. The Revised Statutes Online is updated once a year in the fall. Any changes made during a legislative session will not appear until then. The website explains how to check for changes in the statutes. Patrons will have to go to the Bill Text Search  and search there for any changes.

If you have a citation to a statute (RSA 263:42), use the “browse the index of titles” option. Scroll down the page until you come to the hyperlinked title where your chapter is located, then click on that link. For example, RSA 263:42 is found in Title XXI: Motor Vehicles. You’ll see the Table of Contents for the Title.

Practice Tip

Context is very important in statutes because they’re arranged by subject. The prior or subsequent chapter or section may be relevant to the search. This is one reason why we like to use the browse index instead of the full-text search. Patrons must drill down through the statute and will see their section in context. 

From the Title TOC, click on the appropriate chapter: Chapter 263: Drivers’ Licenses. You’ll see another Table of Contents, this time for the Chapter. You can click the individual section links, but if you click the chapter link at the top of the page, you will see the chapter in its entirety (context again!). Use Ctrl F to find the specific section or just scroll down the page. 

Full-text searching is also available. The Help on Querying page explains how to search but this isn't a user-friendly interface. You could use Google instead and restrict the search to the general court’s website (drivers' licenses site:gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/). Google omits similar results; you will want to see those.  Whether you use Google or the nh.gov search function, full-text searching can be a problem for nonlawyers because they may not be familiar with the specific legal terms used in statutes.  

Practice Tip

Use the subject index to the print statutes to search by subject then look up the references online using the “browse the index” option.

New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated, 1955

The print version of the NH statutory code is titled “New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated, 1955.” This is a multi-volume set with separate Tables and Index volumes. The set is kept up to date with pocket parts inserted into the backs of hard-bound volumes, stand-alone supplements, replacement volumes, and legislative service pamphlets. Do not keep out of date bound volumes, pocket parts, or legislative service pamphlets on the shelf unless they are clearly labelled as out of date. Unless your library collects historical versions of statutes, there's no need to keep these items once they've been replaced.

Practice Tip
For first-time users, do a quick run through of how to read a statute. Have them look at the bound volume first, then check for a pocket part or supplement. If your library subscribes to the legislative service pamphlets, have patrons check those for the most recent changes. 

Notice the “annotated” in the title.  This is what makes the print version of the RSAs so useful. Annotations are summaries of cases that have interpreted or applied a statute or a section of a statute. Your patrons can do statutory research and case law research using one resource. Also included are references to regulations, encyclopedia and law review articles, as well as cross-references to related statutes. These research aids are not available in the Revised Statutes Online.  

Practice Tip

When you direct first-time users to the print statutes, take a moment to point out the annotations, the references to articles, etc. and the cross-references to other statutes.  We generally say something like “Have you used the statutes before?” If the answer is no, pull a random volume off the shelf and leaf through it to find examples of annotations and other references. It’s very quick. In the law library, a typical exchange would be “Annotations are references to case law about this statute. These are cross-references to other statutes that may apply, and these are references to articles about this subject. When you’re ready to read the cases or any of these other items, let me know and I’ll show you how to find them.” 

Using the Subject Index

The preface explains the coverage and types of references and cross-references found in the index. According to the preface there are four types of references: Topical, Descriptive, Conceptual, and Colloquial. Topical and Conceptual refer to fields of law or legal concepts that may be unfamiliar to nonlawyers. Descriptive and Colloquial references seem to be the most helpful to our patrons. Descriptive references describe persons, places, or things. Colloquial references are common or informal terms. When the dry cleaner has sold your patron’s clothes after six months of storage, rather than trying to come up with Liens and Incumbrances (Conceptual), look up Dry Cleaners and Laundries (Descriptive) instead.

Practice Tip

References in the subject index are to chapters and sections, not to pages. Point this out to first time users and tell them to look for chapter/section numbers in the upper left and right corners of pages. 

Publishers

There have been several publishers of the Revised Statutes Annotated over the years. The two current publishers are Thomson/Reuters and LexisNexis.  Both offer the statutes in various formats. The Thomson/Reuters version is the official version; they have a contract with the state to publish the statutes.  

Print or Online?

We are occasionally asked whether libraries still need to buy the print version of the RSAs since it’s free online. Print requires an initial investment plus annual upkeep costs; staff time to update; and precious space that may not be spared easily. The Revised Statutes Online is more accessible than the print and can be easier to read because the text isn’t interrupted by annotations and other references. On the other hand, the online version is more difficult for someone unfamiliar with legal terms to search and it doesn’t provide the research aids that the print statutes have. If you must do without the print subscription, consider buying the print subject index to make online searching easier. You might also consider buying the subject-specific versions of the statutes (on Landlord/Tenant law or Motor Vehicles for example). These are one-volume, soft cover books that are usually published in annual editions.  

Remember that both the State Library and the New Hampshire Law Library have circulating sets of the NH RSAs that you can borrow through ILL.

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