Bills would enhance domestic violence training for judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers; and amend domestic violence definition to ensure offenders not spared penalties
(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Monday approved a four-bill legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano, Nancy Pinkin, John McKeon, Shavonda Sumter, Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Benjie Wimberly, Joann Downey, Gabriela Mosquera, Dan Benson, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Jamel Holley to better protect victims of domestic violence.
A 2015 report from the state courts showed 32,691 domestic violence complaints filed in family court for the entire state – a 950 case-increase from the previous year, according to a media report. In 2016, there were about 52 domestic violence related deaths in the state.
The first three bills were recommended by the Supreme Court Ad Hoc Committee on Domestic Violence. The committee, made up of judges, lawyers and victim advocates, was formed in 2015 to examine domestic violence laws, policies and procedures and make recommendations.
The first bill (A-317), sponsored by Pinkin, McKeon, Sumter, Lampitt, Vainieri Huttle and Wimberly, bill would direct the Administrative Director of the Courts to develop and approve a training course and a curriculum for all municipal court judges, Superior Court judges responsible for the adjudication of domestic violence matters, and judicial personnel involved with the intake and processing of domestic violence complaints.
Current law requires all judges and judicial personnel attend initial domestic violence training within 90 days of appointment or transfer and to attend annual in-service training. This bill would expand on this training.
Under the bill, all such judges and judicial personnel would participate in core training regarding issues such as the dynamics of domestic violence, the impact of domestic violence on children, trauma-informed danger assessments, batterer intervention and anger management programs, and domestic violence risk factors and lethality.
“One in three women and one in four men have experienced physical violence by a domestic partner,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “These numbers are staggering and demonstrate how pervasive this is, and how important it is that the professionals tasked with responding and handling these cases are adequately trained so victims are protected and perpetrators are punished.”
“There is no one-size fits all approach to domestic violence cases,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “Supplementing the training that judges already receive can help ensure that they are equipped to preside over these cases with the best interest of the victim and justice in mind.”
“Trust in the system is paramount. Without it, victims suffer,” said Sumter (D-Passaic/Bergen). “These judges bear a great responsibility. Enhancing their training can help build greater trust in the system so that victims feel confident in coming forward and bringing their abusers to justice.”
“These judges are presiding over cases with life-and-death implications,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “This additional information can help them better navigate these often complicated cases so that they are making the best decisions for victims and their families.”
The second bill (A-860), sponsored by Vainieri Huttle, Downey, Mosquera, Lampitt and Benson, would direct the Attorney General, in consultation with the county and municipal prosecutors, to develop or identify curricula for domestic violence training for all municipal prosecutors. Participation in the training program would be mandatory under the bill.
“Most domestic violence cases begin at the municipal level, but current law but does not require domestic violence training for municipal prosecutors,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Being able to understand the complexities of domestic violence can help ensure justice is served.”
“Domestic violence cases are rarely simple. Victims might make decisions that seem to go against their own interests, when in reality they are means of survival,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “Prosecutors need to understand this so they can properly represent and advocate for these clients.”
“On average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves for good,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “These cases require a nuanced understanding of domestic violence and how it impacts victims. Detailed training can help provide that.”
“Domestic violence goes largely unreported despite its frequency. It’s not easy coming forward or to follow through with the process,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Those who do should know that the person representing them understands domestic abuse and its consequences.”
The third bill (A-874), sponsored by Mosquera, Downey, Chiaravalloti and Wimberly, would require in-person, instructor-led training in the handling and investigation of domestic violence reports for law enforcement officers. The bill would also require training for assistant county prosecutors involved in the handling of domestic violence cases. Currently, law enforcement officers are required to attend an initial training within 90 days or appointment or transfer, as well as an annual in-service training. Many officers meet this annual in-service training requirement solely through on-line training methods. This bill would require in-person training over online training.
“Gender bias, whether conscious or unconscious, may influence how a police officer responds to a domestic violence case,” Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). “Having an instructor who can clarify dubious assumptions about these cases can help ensure a thoughtful and helpful response.”
“For many domestic violence victims, their first interaction with the criminal justice system is through the police officer responding to their call,” Wimberly (D-Passaic/Bergen). “We have to ensure that our officers are prepared to respond with the sensitivity that these cases require.”
The fourth bill (A-1742), sponsored by Quijano and Holley, would amend the domestic violence definition to include the attempt or conspiracy to commit an enumerated act.
Current law defines domestic violence as the occurrence of one or more enumerated acts inflicted upon a person under certain circumstances. However, the definition does not specifically include an attempt or conspiracy to commit an enumerated act. This bill changes that.
The bill is in response to an Appellate Division decision vacating a domestic violence surcharge assessed against a defendant who had been convicted of attempted murder. In State v. Lee, 411 N.J. Super. 349 (App. Div. 2010), the court held that the defendant was not subject to the surcharge because attempted murder is not included in the enumerated crimes and offenses.
“Individuals who engage in this type of deplorable behavior should not be able to avoid penalties over a technicality,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Updating this definition ensures that perpetrators of domestic violence are held fully responsible for their actions.”
“The fact that a domestic violence abuser can avoid a penalty because they tried to commit a crime, but did not succeed is an insult to victims,” said Holley (D-Union). “This update to the current definition will help ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their reprehensible actions.”
All four bills were released by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Quijano.