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Is it a felony to detect in a graveyard in NH?

Posted by SteveP (NH) 
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Is it a felony to detect in a graveyard in NH?
June 11, 2009 10:04AM
Recently a question about whether or not it was legal to detect in graveyards in NH came up in another forum as a side issue to whether or not one should for ethical or moral reasons. I had been told that it was a felony in NH to detect inside the perimeter of a cemetery and looked up the law which covers cemeteries in the NH state code and posted that to the discussion. One of the other folks from NH posted this link to an article on streeter.org that basically says it is ok with permission.

[www.streeter.org]

Here is the law I looked up

New Hampshire Code TITLE LXII — CRIMINAL CODE CHAPTER 635: UNAUTHORIZED ENTRIES

Section 635:6 Interference With Cemetery or Burial Ground.

"I. No person, without the written authorization of the owner of a burial plot, or the lineal descendant of the deceased, if such owner or lineal descendant is known, or the written authorization of the governing board of the municipality in which the burial plot lies, if the owner or lineal descendant is unknown, shall:
(a) Purposely or knowingly destroy, mutilate, injure or remove any tomb, monument, gravestone, marker, or other structure, or any portion or fragment thereof, placed or designed for a memorial of the dead, or any fence, railing, gate, curb, or plot delineator or other enclosure for the burial of the dead.
(b) Purposely or knowingly disturb the contents of any tomb or grave in any cemetery or burial ground.
II. The governing board of the municipality in which the burial plot lies shall not grant approval for the removal or disturbance of a tomb, monument, gravestone, marker, or plot delineator without first giving 30 days' notice, along with a report of the full circumstances, to the division of historical resources, that such approval has been requested. The governing board of the municipality shall maintain a record of the date, circumstances, and disposition of the request for removal or disturbance.

Section 635:8 Penalties.

Any person who is convicted of an offense under RSA 635:6 or 635:7 shall be guilty of a class B felony, and shall be ordered by the court to make restitution for damages resulting from the offense and for replacement of removed items."


Now after reading the law and the article it seems to me it all comes down to the exact meaning of part (b) above, "Purposely or knowingly disturb the contents of any tomb or grave in any cemetery or burial ground." It doesn't really define exactly what "knowingly disturb the contents ..." means, so a police officer could arrest somebody digging shallow recovery holes and it would be up to your attorney to make the case that digging shallows holes wasn't disturbing the contents of the grave, so ultimately it would be up to the judge or jury deciding the case to figure out that question.

Does anyone know if there have been any cases prosecuted under this law?

Personally, I wouldn't ever dig inside a cemetery for moral reasons and out of respect for the living relatives of anyone buried inside, not to mention the expenses involved in having to defend oneself in a criminal trial. But I am interested if anyone knows for sure how this law has been enforced relative to metal detecting?
Anonymous User
Re: Is it a felony to detect in a graveyard in NH?
June 11, 2009 06:00PM
Not sure on any laws per say. I've tried it and find it very uncomfortable and can do without digging in Cemeteries.
A moral thing with me. I will do the perimeter and feel fine doing it.
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Lifetime Member
Re: Is it a felony to detect in a graveyard in NH?
June 11, 2009 06:48PM
"the contents of any tomb or grave" I take this to mean any casket or concrete casket enclosure or ash container, but maybe a lawyer would interpret this another way. I got permission from the sexton of a local cemetery to dig within the grounds. I was interested in this spot because the meeting house once stood in the middle of the cemetery. I didn't go on the graves, only around the borders and the woods. If any visitors came, I would high-tail it in the woods. It wasn't worth it and after I thought about it I didn't feel right about it.

So it's probably a local ruling as to whether detecting is allowed or not. I'm sure if someone was caught detecting without permission, they would be given a warning or at least given the name of the sextant to ask permission. There are better, more moral places to detect that don't ruffle any feathers.

"It is well that war is so terrible - lest we grow too fond of it" . Gen. Robert E. Lee
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With so many other places to detect...
June 11, 2009 06:49PM
I don't understand why some people indulge in this kind of activity. I know that there are many who have detected cemeteries, and stuck to the pathways, and not detected near or over graves. Fine. I suppose that some detectorists knew where to draw the line. Still, others went further, such as I was told recently by a respected and veteran detectorist. The end result was people taking items that were placed near or on gravesites by their loved ones.

As with NHBob, for me it's a moral issue. My principles do not allow me to pursue detecting in such places. Personally, if I saw someone detecting in the cemetery where my family lies, my first impulse would be to knock their head off with my own shovel. Of course, what I really would do is contact the police. But if the police failed to show, I'd grab my shovel...

Whether or not it is legal to detect in cemeteries is not the issue for me. As I said before, it is a moral issue, and furthermore, an activity that reflects very poorly on metal detecting. Anyone driving by a cemetery and seeing someone in there with a metal detector is sure to forge a mental image which would only reinforce the reputation of "plunderers" and "looters" that many have already assigned to us. The last thing we need is to have "grave robbing" added to our list of illicit actions. To my knowledge, no one I know has ever come close to being prosecuted for such actions, but they have been asked to leave by concerned citizens, and cemetery caretakers.

I have a great deal of respect for history, and this also pertains to the history of individual families. I have found small family plots in the middle of the woods, where I could have detected without anyone knowing. Still, I refrained from doing so out of respect.

So, personally, I would dissuade anyone from doing so, not to impart my own morals on anyone, but to help spare us from the negative backlash on our image.

I will not mince words on this issue... Anyone feeling the urge and that they have the legal right to detect in a cemetery is clearly not in the same league as the real metal detecting enthusiasts who endeavor to find history. They are simply going for easy pickings, and lack the moral fibre that I feel is required to call yourself a true "treasure hunter" (as much as I detest that term).

My finds, and that of others who do not detect in or around cemeteries, are testament that you do not need to partake in this activity in order to find what we often call "keepers".

Jules

Relic Hunter, Radio Program Host/Producer at Black Sheep Radio - www.wool.fm
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Re: With so many other places to detect...
June 12, 2009 10:48AM
Well said Jules. smileys with beer
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Re: Is it a felony to detect in a graveyard in NH?
June 12, 2009 01:44PM
I maybe wrong, but I think Steve is referring to a discussion that occured on another forum where someone mentioned that Lost Treasure magazine recently did a story PROMOTING the idea of hunting in cemeteries.

Although I haven't read the article, I heard it was found here:

Article by Rich Goss, May 2009 issue of L T, page 63

The paraphrased comments people posted from the article made it sound like the story was really in poor taste and has no business being included in a magazine that has a responsibility to look out for it's hobby.

If any of you have a copy of the Lost Treasure magazine in question, I'd be curious to know if it really is as distasteful as it sounded.

"There is no getting away from a treasure that once fastens upon your mind" - Joseph Conrad (Nostromo)
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Re: With so many other places to detect...
June 12, 2009 01:56PM
I agree with the comments in this thread and think Jules put it about as well as it can be put.

My reason for bringing this up was to try and clarify if it is legal or a felony to detect in a graveyard in NH which was a side issue for another discussion. When I was a member of the Granite State Treasure Hunter's Club years ago, the issue came up and my recollection is that it was concluded or stated by someone with authority in the club that it was indeed a felony. I have always consider it such based on that experience.

When I stated my belief that it was against NH law, someone else from NH mentioned on that forum that there was an article posted on streeter.org (link in my original post) saying that although there maybe ethical issues with it, that it was all right to detect as along as you got an ok from the cemetery caretakers.

So to sum up my reason for starting this topic was to try and resolve the conflict (if there is one) between the article posted on George's website and the information I was told sometime in the distant past and the somewhat vaguely stated law on the subject. As I said before it looks to me like the only way it could really be resolved is if it is litigated and so I was asking if anyone knew if there had been such a court case.

Personally, it doesn't matter to me if it is legal or not as I will never detect inside a graveyard even if the governor himself invited me to do so, there are so many reasons not to (as Jules as so eloquently pointed out) that to me it is a no brainer.
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Honorary Member
Re: Is it a felony to detect in a graveyard in NH?
June 12, 2009 02:43PM
For me detecting in a known grave yard is morally corrupt. Never in my life have I ever knowingly hunted one and never will I. If I ever see someone in a grave yard they will receive a few expletives in an Aussie/British accent angry smiley.

HH
Al
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Lifetime Member
Re: Is it a felony to detect in a graveyard in NH?
June 12, 2009 08:31PM
Ditto

lots and lots of other places to go

Dig colonial or go home
www.cttodd.com
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Lifetime Member
Re: Is not a against the law to detect in most graveyard in NH?
June 12, 2009 09:13PM
I've sold metal detectors to cemeteries in MA, NH, & VT. In conversation, I always ask about whether there are laws or rules against metal detecting in cemeteries. From what I’ve learned, there are no State laws in MA or NH against detecting in grave yards. I was told if if the grave yard was private or privately managed, they can make their own rules and outlaw metal detecting. In my 36 years of detecting, the only problems I’ve heard about grave yard hunting was the guy who was caught digging in an Indian Burial ground, and the no metal detecting signs in Norwich, VT & Stoddard, NH.
Streeter



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/12/2009 09:15PM by Sea Hunter.
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Lifetime Member
Re: Is not a against the law to detect in most graveyard in NH?
June 12, 2009 09:30PM
What did the cemetary people want the detectors for?

Dig colonial or go home
www.cttodd.com
Anonymous User
Re: Is not a against the law to detect in most graveyard in NH?
June 12, 2009 09:35PM
Good question
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Lifetime Member
graveyards buy metal detectors to find graves.
June 12, 2009 09:56PM
Graves are marked with aluminum markers and most times the grass grows over the pins and can't be found. Metal detectors make the job of finding the pins easier.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/12/2009 09:57PM by Sea Hunter.
Lifetime Member
Re: graveyards buy metal detectors to find graves.
June 13, 2009 05:07AM
I help a guy a few weeks ago find a 7 foot anchor that he had buried. He lost his marker and couldn't find it. Took longer than you might think to find. He had buried it straight down. He used it to chain motorcycles to when he had them on the lawn to sell and didn't want someone to steal them at night. I knew someone would want to know why he buried it!

HH

Bob K
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