The NJ Supreme Court Committee on Domestic Violence recently released its final report and made recommendations relating to domestic violence matters. The recommendations affect things like resources, education, training, and the interactions between NJ Local Municipal Courts (which handle disorderly persons or misdemeanor-level cases) and NJ County Superior Courts (which handle indictable, felony-level cases and restraining orders).
The types of criminal charges handled in Municipal Court can include offenses like simple assault, harassment, and disorderly conduct relating to domestic violence matters. These are known as disorderly persons offenses (misdemeanors) and can result in a permanent criminal charge on your record if you are ultimately convicted. In Superior Court, indictable, felony cases are handled and can include serious criminal charges like aggravated assault, terroristic threats, stalking, sexual assault, and even homicide.
The New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Domestic Violence was created by NJ Chief Justice Stuart Rabner in February 2015, with the committee’s goal being to examine current NJ domestic violence laws, resources presently available to domestic violence victims, the interaction between the court systems in New Jersey, any potential treatment methods available for domestic violence offenders, methods for risk assessment, and various resources for education and training on domestic violence issues. The domestic violence committee was composed of members from all three branches of government in NJ, the private sector, special interest advocacy groups, attorneys who represent clients charged with domestic violence offenses, and attorneys who represent victims of domestic violence. As a result, politicians, judges, prosecutors, and criminal defense attorneys from across New Jersey, including Morris County and Bergen County, were all important members of the committee.
The committee came forward with many recommendations, including:
- Expanding the use of domestic violence advocates in Municipal Court cases so that both victims and defendants are fairly represented.
- Developing court rules and procedures that will allow domestic violence victims in high-risk cases to feel safe by testifying in hearings without actually needing to be present in court.
- Expanding current NJ domestic violence laws to include cyber-harassment and online threats as a basis for filing a restraining order.
- Expanding the availability of therapeutic programs for children who are exposed to domestic violence.
I am Morris County NJ criminal defense lawyer Travis J. Tormey. As a criminal defense attorney, I see a potential issue with recommendation #2, which could allow alleged domestic violence victims to testify in court without actually needing to be present in the courtroom. This recommendation could potentially violate the confrontation clause, which exists to protect defendants’ rights by ensuring that anyone accused of a criminal act is able to confront their accuser. If this recommendation is implemented by NJ lawmakers, it could potentially violate a defendant’s constitutional right to due process. I understand the need to protect high-risk victims in domestic violence cases, but there are already protections in place: the courthouse is highly guarded by sheriff’s officers and there should not really be any valid safety concerns when the time comes to appear in court to testify.